POLICE REFORM BILL
D. COMMUNITY SUPPORT OFFICERS
52. Probably the most controversial aspect of
the Bill is to give some police powers to a new type of community
support officer without full police training. This idea comes
mainly from the Metropolitan Police Service and would be optional
rather than compulsory for all forces. The Metropolitan Police
Service wants community support officers because, they say, policing
central London does not need all the skills of police officers
who would be better deployed in the boroughs.
The powers to be given to community support officers include those
of issuing fixed penalty notices relating to anti-social behaviour,
requesting a name and address and detaining for a limited period.
The Association of Police Authorities told us: "There is,
as far as I am aware, no other part of the country [apart from
London]...where there is a desire to have community support officers".
More recently, Lord Condon told the Lords that a dozen police
forces are now keen to explore the notion of community support
53. This proposal is one of a number of measures
in the Bill intended to enable the police to make greater use
of civilians in police operations. As well as community support
officers, there is a scheme for accrediting private sector security
organisations as accredited community safety organisations (ACSOs),
giving police powers to civilian investigators and wider use of
civilians in detention and escort roles. The most striking of
these new powers would be the ability of a community support officer
to detain someone for up to thirty minutes pending the arrival
of a constable.
54. The Metropolitan Police Service's case is
that a direct labour force of community support officers (CSOs),
coming under the control and direction of police, will:
- provide a dedicated resource to protect
London against the threat of terrorism
- provide a more continuous visible uniformed
presence in identified public spaces in London
- increase the confidence of London's communities
that anti-social behaviour will be challenged and
- help release police officers to tasks more
suited to their training and skills.
55. Various witnesses have raised concerns about
The Police Federation:"We see this as
adding an unnecessary and unwieldy additional tier to policing,
with the potential both to confuse the public and to provoke breaches
of the peace. Many of the functions envisaged for the deployment
of CSOs are potentially some of the most dangerous and difficult
situations faced by police officers".
Police Superintendents' Association: "There
is a real danger that police officers will be left to clear up
the mess created by mistakes rather than being supported, and
that officers will be called up to deal with low level offences
rather than concentrating on other issues [as] the Government
Association of Chief Police Officers: "There
are bound to be issues around whether the operational gain from,
say, six wardens, as against, say, four police officers would
be best value or whether matters of discipline, complaints, retention,
protection and the like would be disadvantageous".
The Association of Police Authorities: "I
am extremely worried about giving a non police officer the power
of detention because I have seen some of these street situations...there
is a lot of alcohol related disorder...I could see grave problems
if a non police officer had a power of detention. I could see
all sorts of flash point situations arising which would in the
end cause more police time to be wasted by the police having to
come and deal with these problems".
56. In considering this issue, we have examined
in particular the power to detain and whether it is not possible
to have more police officers on the beat. On the latter, the Police
Federation have urged an increase in the volunteer unpaid special
constabulary from some 12,500 to 32,500. In the course of proceedings
on the Bill, the Government has announced that it is looking at
the possibility of paying special constables and ways of encouraging
their employers to release them for public duty.
We have also heard from the Metropolitan Police Commissioner how
the Specials are a channel of recruitment into regular police
service and that this has been especially effective in attracting
people from ethnic minorities into the police.
Although the number of regular police are planned to increase
to some 130,000 by 2003, the Minister told us it was very unlikely
that the Specials could be expanded by so much in such a short
period of time.
The dilemma about community support officers is summed up by these
"Why not more police officers?"
"I would rather have community support officers
than no one".
"Do you think there will be more operational
gain from four police officers or six community support officers?...the
answer would be four police officers".
57. One concern raised with us by the Association
of Police Authorities was that it would be possible for a Government
to offer "ring-fenced" funding for community support
officers which would put reluctant police authorities under financial
pressure to adopt such schemes.
Ring-fenced funds have been provided for recruiting extra police
officers under the Crime Fighting Fund.
58. Asked about this, the Minister said: "The
Bill makes it clear it is for the chief officer to decide whether
he or she wishes to have community support officers as part of
their force. Clause  of the Bill provides no mechanism for
forcing a chief officer to take that decision". The Prime
Minister, when asked in the House recently by Angela Watkinson
MP, a Member of this Committee, whether he would give an assurance
that community support officers will not be imposed on police
authorities by ring-fencing or any other means, said: "Of
course community support officers will not be imposed; there has
never been any question of that".
59. In considering this, we have taken into account
the greater use of local authority wardens under a variety of
schemes in different parts of the country. The Department of Transport,
Local Government and the Regions has described in written evidence
some 200 projects for Neighbourhood and Street Wardens, involving
The London Borough of Islington reports "very positive experience"
with its warden scheme.
In Lancashire there are "some extremely innovative schemes
which are working extremely well".
The Lords were told by a member of Thames Valley Police Authority
that "Many communities...want to see their local wardens
left as they are and not to exercise police powers".
At the same time, it would be possible for some existing warden
schemes to be given some police powers under the provision for
accredited community safety organisations.
60. The power to detain someone for up to thirty
minutes, pending the arrival of a police constable has attracted
a range of comments. In the Lords, a former Chief Superintendent
"There is not a great deal of difference
between the powers of the police and the powers of the public
under common law".
61. The Chairman of the Association of Police
Authorities envisaged the situation in which the power to detain
might be used:
" clearly the sort of people who are
going to be detained are, by their very nature, likely to be abusive
or likely to be drunk or likely to be difficult people, the sort
of people we see in the town centre, they are not going to be
amenable presumably otherwise they are not going to be detained".
62. The Minister, on the other hand, did not
think this scenario would arise:
"I somehow doubt that a community support
officer would normally be out patrolling on their own at 11.30
on a Friday night. It is perhaps possible that community support
officers would be out with police officers in town centres at
that time as part of a well-organised presence on the streets".
63. The Joint Committee on Human Rights has drawn
the attention of both Houses to these powers, stressing the need
for effective training and suggesting that the underlying aim
of preventing anti-social behaviour would not be a legitimate
aim for the purposes of European Convention rights.
64. Community support officers and accredited
community safety organisations may increase the visible police
presence on the streets. There is also a risk that they will cause
confusion because members of the public may not be able to distinguish
one uniform from another. Wardens do tend to wear uniforms which
are not easily mistaken for the police.
65. We recommend that the partial police powers
to be vested in community support officers and accredited community
safety organisations be reflected in different uniforms, so members
of the public can distinguish clearly between those with
full police powers and others on duty on the streets.
66. We accept the Government's argument that
in London and possibly other areas an adequate policing presence
is unlikely to be achieved by the planned increase in regular
and special constables and that community support officers may
be the solution in certain cases.
67. We recognise the genuine concerns about
the powers to be given to community support officers, but believe
that the only way of finding out whether this proposal will work
is to try it. It may be that it will only ever be used by a few
police forces and that the powers will need to be amended in the
light of experience. Since the Metropolitan Police Service wish
to try this new system, we conclude that the proposed powers for
community support officers should be approved.
68. We note that part 4 of the Bill would
not compel any police force to employ community support officers.
We would like to be assured that neither clause 6 (regulation
of procedures and practices) nor the ring-fencing of expenditure
on policing will be used to compel any police force to go down
69. The wider use of civilians in police roles
is also covered by the Bill. Unison, representing police support
staff outside London, welcomes this.
One private sector contractor has told the Committee of the potential
for developing 'detention officers' into 'escort officers' taking
people from the point of arrest to a central custody suite, freeing
up the time of police constables.
Detention officers at police stations deal with people in custodya
task already involving civilianssearching them, taking
fingerprints, samples and photographs, but not conducting intimate
body searches. The Bill would take this role further by allowing
intimate body searches to be conducted by civilian staff employed
by police authorities.
Both the Chief Constable of Thames Valley and Reliance STMS told
the Committee that they were disappointed that clause 35 (Police
powers for police authority employees) makes provisions for
non-police officers to carry out the detention officer role but
does not appear to extend that provision to staff provided under
Unison calls for civilian detention officers to be allowed to
use reasonable force to restrain detainees.
70. We invite the Government to clarify its
intentions about clause 35 (police powers for police authority
employees) in respect of the detention officer role being
carried out by civilian staff working under contract as well as
those directly employed by police authorities. In particular,
we are concerned that a drift to a 'contracting out' culture will
lead to civilians with insufficient training working in poor conditions
for less money while doing jobs which until recently were undertaken
by police officers.
71. Moreover, we are opposed to civilians,
whether employed by the police or private companies, being given
powers to assist in or undertake intimate body searches.
72. Among the other measures in the Bill, there
are two we particularly welcome. Clause 67 (nationality requirements
applicable to police officers etc.) removes the existing restriction
that police officers must be British, Irish or Commonwealth citizens.
Anyone regardless or birth or nationality will be able to be a
police constable. This measure was criticised in the Lords
but we share the view of former Metropolitan Police Commissioner
"Existing legislation inhibited the recruitment
of many fine people who were living in this country and had done
so for many years and who, in all other respects, satisfied the
fit person requirements to become a police officer".
73. Part 5 of the Bill, concerning the Ministry
of Defence Police, brings that force within the same disciplinary
and inspection arrangements as other forces. This implements undertakings
given following recommendations this Committee made during pre-legislative
scrutiny of the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Bill in November
The Defence Committee has also recommended this.
We refer in paragraph 41 above to one omission in the complaints
arrangements for Ministry of Defence and British Transport police
based in Scotland and Northern Ireland.
50 QQ. 6 and 64, 5 February 2002 (Sir John Stevens). Back
Q. 445 (Dr Henig). Back
Lords Hansard, 16 April 2002, col. 834. Back
This power was removed from the Bill in the Lords on 25 April
2002, col. 403 ff. Back
Police Federation briefing on the White Paper, paras 71-2 (not
Police Superintendents' Association briefing on the White Paper,
para. 14.3 (not printed). Back
ACPO briefing on the White Paper (not printed). Back
Q. 450 (Dr Henig). Back
Lords Hansard, 15 April 2002, col. 812. Back
Q.10, 5 February 2002 (Sir John Stevens). Back
Q. 581 (John Denham). Back
Q. 447 (Dr Henig). Back
Lords Hansard, 7 March, col. 431 (Bns Gardner of Parkes). Back
Q. 49 (Sir David Phillips). Back
Q. 451 (Dr Henig). Back
Hansard, 13 March 2002, col. 888. Back
Ev 154. Back
Ev 156. Back
Q. 453 (Dr Ruth Henig). Back
Lords Hansard, 7 March, col. 485 (Lord Bradshaw, a member of Thames
Valley police authority). Back
Lords Hansard, 7 March, col. 433 (Lord Mackenzie, former President
of the Police Superintendents' Association). Back
Q. 454 (Dr Henig). Back
Q. 601 (John Denham). Back
Fifteenth Report, 2001-02, HC 706, paras. 28-44. Back
Ev 151. Back
Ev 126. Back
Para. 24 of part 3 of schedule 4. Back
Ev 126 and 134. Back
Ev 152. Back
Lords Hansard, 12 March, col. 746 (Lord Renton). Back
Lords Hansard, 12 March, col. 750 (Lord Condon, former Metropolitan
Police Commissioner). Back
Hansard, 26 November 2001, col. 780. Back
First Report, 2001-02, HC 382, paras. 34 and 36. Back