Select Committee on Unopposed Bill Committee Minutes of Evidence

Sections 580-599

London Local Authorities Bill [HL]

Wednesday 19 February 2003

580. Metropolitan Police Officers are on occasion diverted from other and often more important tasks to support the parks police. In order to provide a cost­effective and a cost­efficient service to the public and the parks and the open spaces this issue can be addressed easily by affording greater powers to the parks constables.

581. The use of these additional powers would ensure that the Parks Constabulary are able to provide support and assistance to the Metropolitan Police at all times within their jurisdiction and at the same time provide a more effective response to calls from the public.

582. My Lords, I know that later Mr Ausling will be able to give you some specific examples which will highlight what I have told you.

583. MR LEWIS: Can you explain added value?

(Mr Stratton) It is the parks police who routinely patrol the parks open spaces in Wandsworth, which cover 23 per cent of the area, the extension of the powers as proposed would increase the cost­effectiveness and cost­efficiency of the parks constabulary, as they would be able to deal more adequately with offences that come to their notice within their jurisdiction and not divert Metropolitan Police Officers from high priority tasks.

584. When requested for large events for parks and open spaces the Metropolitan Police always back us up, for example at the Borough Show last year some 12 to 15 Metropolitan Police were on duty and some 20 parks police were on duty. If the wider powers were available to the parks police the Metropolitan Police could reduce their numbers significantly to perhaps 4 or even 6. This applies to numerous events that we hold within the Borough.

585. During the joint Metropolitan Police and parks police operations in parks and open spaces, such as joint vice initiatives, which we carry out periodically, certainly for 4 weeks every year and public events, some 14 days a year, demonstrations, and joint uniform patrol operations officers of the Metropolitan Police and the parks constabulary would be able to deal with offenders with full powers in the same way and to the same standard and there would be no confusion between the two.

586. Currently extra Metropolitan Police resources are deployed to accompany parks police resources but with the extra powers this would release the Metropolitan Police to undertake directed, intelligence­led and focused patrolling elsewhere in the knowledge that parks and the open spaces were patrolled by officers who were empowered to enforce the general law.

587. In the early days of the Wandsworth Parks Constabulary the council and the parks police were firmly of the view they were able to enforce the general law within their jurisdiction and there were very few problems.

588. At that time crime in and round Battersea Park was similar to that in Haringey, which today in the region of the park has seen some 5,000 criminal offences.

589. MR LEWIS: That is Finsbury Park.

(Mr Stratton) The introduction of the parks constabulary and the enforcement of the general law by the parks constabulary reduced crimes significantly, however wider powers would have further improvement.

590. Some years ago legal opinion was sought regarding powers and the view of the council was that additional powers were not available to the parks police.

591. MR LEWIS: Can you list some of the deficiencies which result in a lack of the wider power which you once thought you had?

(Mr Stratton) The parks police patrol all open spaces in and outside the school working day. Wider powers would enable constables to take children back to school rather than have to call the Metropolitan Police. There are many children who are in the parks when they should be at school.

592. When checks are made on some individuals it is reported that they are wanted on warrant or wanted by the police. Parks constables have no powers to detain these individuals unless they actually see them committing an arrestable offence. This information only comes over the air having done their police check. The Metropolitan Police must attend by which time, of course, the offender is gone.

593. When a driver erratically drives a car in the park or on a park road there is no legal reason to stop the vehicle. In several cases the driver is well above the permitted level of alcohol in the blood. Constables do try and stop the vehicle and summon the Metropolitan Police to carry out a breath test which could and should perhaps be done by the parks police who would then arrest the offender and take them to the local Metropolitan Police station for further tests.

594. If a member of the public points out a person who has committed an offence a parks policeman has no power to detain the alleged offender who must be free to go. Clearly if the parks police endeavour to arrest in these cases they do so themselves at the risk of prosecution for exceeding their powers.

595. MR LEWIS: One of the concerns that would obviously be raised if the constable were given full police powers is that of training, could you explain to the Committee the current training regime which exists and whether it would be suitable for constables with full police powers?

(Mr Stratton) My Lords, most of the training of new recruits to the Parks Police Constabulary is undertaken in­house using a well designed, purpose-built training course. It is carried out by Mr Ausling, who is an ex inspector of the Metropolitan Police.

596. Best practice from a range of police training establishments has been incorporated into the course and experts in specific subjects, such as paedophilia, are invited to lecture trainees

597. Home Office standard officers and safety instructors and parks constables are trained to Home Office standards by an approved police instructor undertake training in officer safety technique and conflict resolutions.

598. In all the initial phase of training takes at least 7 weeks, which is the basic course, additional on­the­job training is undertaken up to the end of a probationary period, which is one year. This additional training includes one week at the 6 month point and a further week at the 9 month point.

599. All officers in the parks constabulary undergo a regular continuation course with a minimum of 5 full days mandatory training every year. This does not include team building exercises, training for our dog handlers, which comprises of 15 days a year for each dog team.

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