Select Committee on Unopposed Bill Committee Minutes of Evidence

Sections 540-559

London Local Authorities Bill [HL]

Wednesday 19 February 2003

540. Just as an example, for how long in any given day are there patrols in Battersea Park?

(Mr Stratton) In Battersea Park, the park which receives certainly in excess of 3 million visitors a year, we spend at least 15 hours a day with a uniformed constable within the park.

541. LORD TORDOFF: Could I ask what size Battersea Park is?

(Mr Stratton) Two hundred acres, my Lord.

542. MR LEWIS: Could you give an indication of the number of staff who are dedicated to the parks police service in Wandsworth?

(Mr Stratton) Operational command of the parks police is looked after by an inspector and he has Mr Ausling has his Legal and Training Officer. There are three parks police sergeants, three assistant sergeants, an administrative officer and 21 regular parks police officers. These are supported by what we know as reserve officers. Currently there are six of them but we are recruiting some more. They are backed up currently by four auxiliary officers - we are one short at the moment and recruiting that person - who, if you like, carry out the civilian support role within the operations room and various other locking and unlocking duties that parks police have to carry out. The parks police also look after 12 stewards who look after events and direct traffic and answer queries from the public primarily within Battersea Park. They also have six dog control officers who are not parks constables, nor do they have their powers, but they are empowered to enforce the dog bylaws within the borough, which of course extend within the park as well.

543. Could you give an idea of the annual budget and expenditure?

(Mr Stratton) The total expenditure of the parks police in the last financial year was £1,440,000 and the dog control unit was £205,000.

544. Thank you. Perhaps you could describe to the Committee the overall role of the parks police in Wandsworth?

(Mr Stratton) We see the function of the parks police as to enforce the bylaws in parks and open spaces and to reassure the public who use those parks and open spaces. In the course of their duties, the parks police, if aware of breaches of the general law, use their any person powers. In practice constables get involved in criminal matters primarily in the parks and open spaces but on occasion in other places.

545. The parks police charter, or their mission statement as I would rather call it, is that they provide a professional and caring service to the community through promoting harmony and giving reassurance, protection, assistance and advice while in a firm and courteous manner uphold the law and keep the peace. To achieve this charter they carry out proactive patrolling of all the borough parks and open spaces in order to reassure the public and maintain order, maintain a presence. They deter criminal offences, including those offending against bylaws, they promote and improve community safety and those quality of life issues that people expect to see in parks and open spaces. They provide proactive and reactive police and security patrols to protect the public, council officers, council premises and council property. They carry out patrols in the borough to ensure effective enforcement of dog legislation and to promote responsible dog ownership.

546. They do have a range of additional tasks, some of which are outside the parks and open spaces. They respond to all building alarms by day and by night, which is over 100 buildings looked after by the council throughout and across the borough. They search these premises when an alarm is activated and they carry out the relevant follow-up action. They carry out cash collections from our libraries and our various sports facilities and transfer this money to the bank. They carry out collections of monies from various other council facilities, such as the automatic public conveniences.

547. I think it is fair to say that there are a number of other additional responsibilities, if you like more non-police activities, which are carried out on behalf of the council.

(Mr Stratton) Certainly.

548. If we turn now to statistics. My Lords, we do have some statistics which we would like to hand in. I am sorry that they were not in your original bundle. (Same handed in) If you just look at the document headed "Wandsworth Parks Constabulary Statistical Analysis 1998 to 2002", you will see the figures for 2002. Would you like to comment on those figures?

(Mr Stratton) The various arrest offences, my Lords, range from theft and burglary through various related offences, particularly in Tooting Bec Common and to a lesser degree in Battersea Park, to drink related offences, including drunken driving. I think it is worth observing that while actual offences remain high and are probably on the increase, in line with most other police statistics, the limited powers of arrest by the parks police is resulting in a reduced proportion of offenders being apprehended which presents an increasing challenge to parks constables' authority and their jurisdiction within the parks and open spaces.

549. On the other sheet of statistics we have a breakdown of violence and street crime offences in each of the parks and at the bottom we have the figures for Wandsworth as a borough as a whole for those types of offences. My Lord, you will see that in 2002 there were 124 alleged crimes of violence in the parks and 100 of street crime in the parks. Those figures might seem proportionately low, as it happens, compared with the whole of Wandsworth where you see the figures for violence are 4,875 and for street crime 2,161. Can you possibly provide an explanation as to why the proportion seems perhaps a little low when you consider how large the open spaces are in Wandsworth?

(Mr Stratton) My Lord, I would say there are two factors here. I think the first one is that we do maintain a pretty high presence, particularly in the larger parks and open spaces: Battersea Park, Tooting Bec Common, Wandsworth Park and King George's Park. We visit all of the other parks for at least 15 minutes each day but, as I said earlier, in Battersea Park we have a uniformed presence of 15 hours a day. This must deter, in my view. I would also like to say that the second reason is that Wandsworth is a large borough, there are five major town centres, and Clapham Junction is one of the busiest transport links in London, it has more trains going through Clapham Junction per day than any other city or any other junction in Europe, at peak periods it has 180 buses an hour, so it is a tremendous interchange of people and, of course, of children. We have the other town centres of Tooting, Balham, Battersea, Wandsworth and Putney and crime tends to be focused on town centres, I would suggest, than on parks and open spaces.

550. But that does not mean that there is not a problem in the parks?

(Mr Stratton) Absolutely not.

551. Can you go on to describe what the principal problems are that you see in the parks?

(Mr Stratton) Bylaw enforcement, largely cycling, dogs, vehicle related offences, can lead to serious confrontation and it is this confrontation, sadly, which can become aggressive. In addition, on Tooting Bec Common, as I mentioned earlier, there is a severe male and female prostitution problem and there exists in all the parks, but perhaps a little bit more than it should in Battersea Park, a certain amount of gross indecency. All those offences are distasteful but they upset the peace and quiet that people expect of their parks and open spaces. They go there for leisure, not confrontation. They do enjoy seeing the parks police patrolling because with their presence they are reassured and offenders are deterred.

552. Battersea Park has some 15,000 visitors on a decent summer's day and these will be coming and going, but most will spend a couple of hours in the park. This is matched on occasion on Tooting Common by equivalent numbers. Tooting Common is rather larger at about 220 acres as opposed to the 200 acres of Battersea Park. The other parks and open spaces equally get very busy. The small park which is only some eight acres in Wandsworth, Wandsworth Park adjacent to the river in Putney, gets very, very crowded indeed and as more crowds and more people press together there is interference inevitably through dogs, through balls, through people picnicking and the rest of it, so the presence of a policeman just calms things down and if they see somebody doing something they can reassure them.

553. Within Wandsworth we have some 500 Metropolitan Police and these are spread across the borough which has 270,000 residents and it attracts many more from outside, particularly into our open spaces. The Metropolitan Police in a recent study - I am not now talking about the immediate current situation when sadly Metropolitan Police are taken out to higher priority tasks either at Heathrow or in the City of London or north of the river certainly - had between 35 and up to 50 uniformed officers per shift across the borough. As a result they do not patrol the parks and the open spaces because their priorities are far higher in the other areas, particularly in the town centres, and they carry out intelligence-led policing activities across the borough. The day-to-day policing within Battersea Park and all our other parks and open spaces, and indeed our cemeteries, which make up 23 per cent of the borough is policed by the parks police. While the high intensity of crime remains outside, we still have five per cent of the crime within the borough within our parks and open spaces.

554. CHAIRMAN: Could I ask a couple of questions, one of which is on the statistics you have given. Where you refer to arrests, are those arrests made by the parks constabulary?

(Mr Stratton) They are, my Lord, yes.

555. The other question I have, and I am not sure how relevant this is, is what are the opening hours of the parks? Are they open daylight hours or some of them all the time?

(Mr Stratton) The parks, which are all gated, open at dawn and they close at dusk. In the winter we tend to open them earlier because people do like to exercise their dogs before they go to work and some people like to jog around the park, but in principle dawn and dusk. The same with our cemeteries. Of course the commons and the open spaces remain open all the time and we do maintain patrols 24 hours a day.

556. CHAIRMAN: Thank you.

557. MR LEWIS: So Tooting Common is open 24 hours a day?

(Mr Stratton) That is correct.

558. But not Battersea Park?

(Mr Stratton) No.

559. LORD TORDOFF: Can I ask for slight clarification on that, if I may. Are there any patrols in the closed parks during the dark hours?

(Mr Stratton) There are in Battersea Park, my Lord. In Battersea Park, while it is closed to the public there are facilities that remain open until ten o'clock at night. We have 22 tennis courts which are floodlit and they are used, and we have an all-weather pitch. These are used by people who have pre-booked. We also have a small gymnasium and the athletics track, also open to the public, also floodlit. The policing of Battersea Park continues until it is locked at about 10.30. That does not mean to say that it then stops because the parks police base is in Battersea Park, so patrols through the night are to-ing and fro-ing from Battersea Park and the base is manned 24 hours a day.

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