Select Committee on Home Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 600 - 619)



  600. But one can see them getting into all sorts of scraps and then ringing up the police in the hope of being bailed out but nobody being available. Indeed, one could see a sort of surly indifference on the part of some police officers if certain CSOs got into trouble.
  (Mr Denham) I have confidence in the professionalism of police officers, even if some have reservations about this development, that they would not react in that sort of way. Traffic wardens could potentially be like this. Very similar arguments in fact were deployed almost word for word in some cases about the introduction of traffic wardens in 1961, about the relationship with the police being changed, they would get themselves into trouble, police officers would spend all of their time rescuing traffic wardens. On occasion, it has to be said traffic wardens do get into trouble, but I do not think anybody would say that the general experience is that the Police Service spend all their time going round helping out traffic wardens.

  601. So if a CSO detains a drunk who is causing a bit of mayhem somewhere at 11.30 at night, he hangs on to him for 30 minutes and no one shows up, what happens at 31 minutes?
  (Mr Denham) Going back earlier in your question—and fortunately these are not operational decisions for ministers, they are there for police officers—I somehow doubt that a CSO would normally be out patrolling on their own at 11.30 on a Friday night. It is perhaps possible that CSOs would be out with police officers in town centres at that time as part of a well-organised presence on the streets.

  602. So you foresee there will be joint patrols, as it were?
  (Mr Denham) Yes, I can. Clearly in some circumstances that would not be the case, and patrolling and reassurance and anti-terrorism security-type work, which we have seen and enjoyed around Westminster over recent months and in Canary Wharf, could well be done by CSOs operating on their own. There might be other circumstances, and this is not for me to determine but at the discretion of the chief constable, where they would actually be working with police officers. In some parts of the Bill it is quite clear that has to be the case, as in the terrorism part of the Bill.

  603. I suppose there is nothing to stop, once the 30 minutes is up, a CSO starting the clock again, is there?
  (Mr Denham) I will look at the Bill. I do not think it does that, Chairman, but I will look at it, as you raise the question.[10]

  604. There is a lot of head-shaking going on behind you.
  (Mr Denham) I am very relieved to hear it. I, of course, cannot see the shaking heads but you can. It is an interesting question which has not been previously raised and I will go away and have a look at that.

  605. May I put it to you, in view of the quantity of scepticism certainly on this 30 minutes, it might be worth thinking about a little further?
  (Mr Denham) We will consider the representations we have got. Certainly one or two rural forces have said that 30 minutes is not so long in a rural area and it could be longer. We will continue to consider it. I have to say, I do think we have to get the balance right between what would be a publicly acceptable power of detention by people who are not police officers and the operational side of being able to provide the support. My feeling at the moment is that we have the balance right. My instinct is to be quite worried if we were to envisage a circumstance where somebody might be so far away from the police officer with whom they are working, it could be a couple of hours before somebody turns up to complete the process. Of course, we will continue to listen to the representations, at the moment I see no reason to change the position we have got.

  606. Just to pursue the point, there is no question of whoever obliging forces to take on CSOs?
  (Mr Denham) The legislation I think is pretty clear.

  607. At the moment, yes. There is not even a gleam in your eye?
  (Mr Denham) The chief constable has to take the decision according to the legislation. I do not know if there are nodding or shaking heads behind me.

  David Winnick: They are leaving you to it actually, Minister!


  608. So you do not envisage any circumstances in which a day will dawn when we oblige chief constables to take on CSOs?
  (Mr Denham) I can say what this Bill does, and this part of the Bill says chief constables take the decision.

Mr Watson

  609. There is a problem with this new force commanding the respect of the public, is there not? The sort of communities which are crying out for a uniformed presence are those which usually have problems with anti-social behaviour and ill-disciplined, persistent and defiant behaviour among adolescents, and police officers rightly say to me that they have enough trouble commanding respect with some of these people, and what would be seen as an inferior force would just be laughed at.
  (Mr Denham) Two things. One is that I have been very struck by the success of neighbourhood wardens employed by local authorities in some of the types of communities you are talking about, people who are there who spend the vast majority of their working day out in the community with the ability to stop to people, to talk to people, to get to know people but also to gather information about what is going on. Yes, obviously, there is always a hard core who will not respond to that, but I think the ability to have a patrolling presence which gets to know a community has already been demonstrated to work by people working for local authorities, and I am confident that people working for the police can do that. I would also make the point that if you have communities which have such problems that they need more intensive input from the police, the ability within a Police Service to give reassurance in other areas by CSOs and to use your police resources more effectively in these areas is clearly a bonus. If you have forces at the moment which are stretched in every direction, despite the record number of police officers we have and the increase over the last few years, and you are trying to provide a presence everywhere, you are not necessarily able to concentrate in the way you would like on persistent offenders in the higher crime areas. So I think it does add a flexibility to police deployment.

Mrs Dean

  610. Will the funding of CSOs be out of general police authorities' budgets?
  (Mr Denham) The general answer would be yes, but there is nothing to preclude funding CSOs in other ways.

  611. Is it likely police authorities will have to apply for money to fund CSOs specifically?
  (Mr Denham) To be perfectly honest, I think firstly it is far too early to say and, secondly, no one can say what the situation will be in five or ten years' time. At the moment police authorities receive ring-fenced money for police officers, as you know, which has been one of the reasons why we have had a record increase in police officers. A few years ago that was not the pattern. Although we do not have any particular plans to do what you say, there is nothing in the Bill which affects that one way or the other.

  612. There could be a danger that if it was ring-fenced money then authorities would be forced into using CSOs when they would prefer to have more police officers but not as many CSOs.
  (Mr Denham) I can certainly understand those concerns but I come back to the point, the section of the Bill clearly says it is the chief constable who has to decide whether he wishes to have these CSOs.

David Winnick

  613. Is there not a danger of having a two-tier arrangement where people will phone the police but instead of which they will get a CSO? So we go down the road where at the end of the day before you see the police you first see the CSO?
  (Mr Denham) I do not think so but I do think, if you look at the Bill in the wider sense, there are some circumstances which we cover in the Bill where the person you want to see first is not necessarily a police officer. One of the reasons for strengthening the powers of civilian investigators and scene-of-crime officers is that there are circumstances where the first person you want to get round is somebody who is a skilled investigator who can make sure they get the DNA samples and the other scientific evidence properly. I think what many forces want to do is to be able to have the person with the right skills, including appropriate police powers, to be round there quickly to get the evidence, rather than send somebody round a few hours later and then the person you really want 24 hours after that. So the ability to deploy the people working for the Police Service flexibly is a very important one, but I do not envisage any sort of routine system where you always see a CSO before you see a police officer, far from it.

  614. To some extent your answer has more or less confirmed my suspicions, as well as obviously the Police Federation's, that the CSO would be seen as a deputy police officer, obviously not a police officer in any legal sense. When my constituents ring up, as they often do, and in so many parts of the country it is the same pattern, complaining about what has happened, it will be a CSO they will get or be asked to contact and not a police officer.
  (Mr Denham) Two things. One is, I do not believe that is what anybody has in mind to set up here, and I do not think that is what we have in mind. Secondly, with record numbers of police officers, and we will have over 130,000 by this time next year, on any conceivable scale of expansion of CSOs there will be vastly more police officers than Community Support Officers for a very, very long time to come. Let us not forget that over the past few years there has been an expansion of support officers in the Police Service who are not police officers, that has been very useful, it has helped to free up the time of police officers to spend their time on the duties which we and the public want to see them on, and nobody has said that is about a two-tier Police Service.


  615. Those are auxiliaries who are likely to be employed doing desk jobs in police stations, administrative jobs. The difference with CSOs is that they could be front-line officers.
  (Mr Denham) Yes, they could be front-line and we want to make additional use of civilians in detention jobs and scene-of-crime jobs and so on as part of this Bill. I just cannot envisage a future, I have to say, where your routine first contact with the Police Service has to be with a CSO rather than with a police officer, because I do not think that fits the role being allocated for CSOs within the Bill or indeed what the Police Service will want to do with CSOs.

David Winnick

  616. The real test will come, where CSOs are employed, in whether there is any reduction in street criminality or those responsible, or allegedly responsible, being apprehended quicker. That is the real test of it all, is it not?
  (Mr Denham) And whether the public's fear of crime is reduced and whether we are more effective in gathering information on people perpetrating anti-social behaviour so we can introduce anti-social behaviour orders, whether the links with local authorities to deal with abandoned vehicles and that sort of thing improves, so we do not have streets with burnt-out, abandoned vehicles which make people feel scared even if there is no crime in the street. The CSOs add a capacity to deal with those sorts of things with other agencies which actually it is difficult for the Police Service to give the priority to at the moment which people would like.


  617. Thank you. A few miscellaneous matters before we wind up, mainly on things which are not in the Bill.
  (Mr Denham) The things you would have put in the Bill if you had been here.

  Chairman: Not at all, they are just gentle enquiries.

Mr Watson

  618. The first one is one which the Metropolitan Police would have liked to have seen in the Bill, and that is the provision to allow the police force to recover the cost of policing arising from private commercial activities like night clubs and bars. Have you considered that and, if you did, why is it not in there?
  (Mr Denham) The White Paper which we published before Christmas set out the Government's policy position quite clearly, that in principle there are areas of activities like, broadly, entertainment businesses which give rise to police costs where we would like more money going to the Police Service. There are some imaginative schemes up and down the country on a voluntary basis with night clubs which are funding police officers. No final decisions have been taken in the months since the White Paper about how such a scheme might work or what it should cover and whatever. Clearly we need to make sure we have it right but it is an issue of Government policy which we are certainly interested in.

  619. So it might be revisited in later legislation?
  (Mr Denham) In terms of Government policy, it is an area we would like to address, but it is also quite a complex area. It is one thing to say, "It would be great if there was more money coming to the police to cover the cost of policing a town centre on a Friday night", but it is another matter designing a scheme which would actually work.

10   See Appendix, Ev 166. Back

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