Select Committee on Unopposed Bill Committee Minutes of Evidence

Sections 600-619

London Local Authorities Bill [HL]

Wednesday 19 February 2003

600. There is also training or mentoring which takes place by the shift sergeant, so continuous training takes place.

601. MR LEWIS: Compare, if you will, the training regime you have with that of the Metropolitan Police?

(Mr Stratton) The Metropolitan Police training is considerably longer. In my view the parks police carry out training to at least a standard for the functions that they fulfil of the Metropolitan Police Officer.

602. We now have a training course for parks constables provided in­house by us. It is not necessary for our parks constables to undergo a full Home Office training course, such as that available in training centres such as Hendon or at Ashford. Much of this training is not relevant within the limited jurisdiction of the parks constables. For example, most traffic legislation is not covered, crowd control, domestic situations, domestic violence are all inappropriate for the parks constables.

603. MR LEWIS: Could you say something about the complaints procedure?

(Mr Stratton) My Lord, the burden of proof in relation to disciplinary offences allegedly committed by parks constables is, in my view, far greater than that imposed upon Home Office constables. Virtually all parks constables are bound by the two disciplinary codes, namely the council disciplinary code and the separate parks police code.

604. A disciplinary offence may be proven based on balance of probability and not beyond all reasonable doubt. It is therefore our contention that offences of a disciplinary nature against parks constables can already be dealt within more efficiently and more effectively, and it is quick.

605. MR LEWIS: Just for the record, Mr Stratton, I think you said that the burden of proof in relation to disciplinary offences allegedly committed by parks constables is greater?

(Mr Stratton) That is correct, yes. Complaints are investigated and dealt with by an independent council officer who may or may not be part of the parks constabulary. The case is heard by somebody outside the parks constabulary and then by either myself or by my director.

606. Copies of the council's complaint procedure and the parks police disciplinary code and the councils disciplinary code are, I believe, in your bundles.

607. MR LEWIS: I think you just have the parks disciplinary code but not the council's own, but it is available if you want to look at it. Accountability?

(Mr Stratton) It is often the case that those who do not understand how the parks constabulary work accuse them of not being accountable. Parks constabularies are more directly accountable than any other police service or any private, departmental service that exists currently, such as the Royal Parks Police or the British Transport Police.

608. Parks constables are accountable to a democratically elected committee of councillors who answer to the public and are elected by the public. The parks police service deals with nuisance offences, crimes in park and open spaces, graffiti offences and a gamut of other things all to the best of their ability.

609. Frequently local residents complain to their democratically elected ward councillors who are very quick to point out problems to me, thus the pressure to provide a quality service and to be accountable is maintained. This makes the service directly accountable to those we serve, the accountability is quick and it is seen to be quick.

610. Parks constables are accountable both politically and financially but it would not be wholly inappropriate to include them to inspections from the Home Office or another force if that was necessary to ensure that standards were being maintained, and this provision could be included in any legislation.

611. MR LEWIS: You have appended in the bundle a copy of the most recent Annual Report relating to the police and dog service. I do not think there is anything that you want to point out in that report, it is one which you have relations with the City of London Police.

(Mr Stratton) Yes. The Annual Report is a public document and it covers the targets, the performance measures, it is a critical analysis of the previous year and proposed service improvements for the next year. It is a public document, it is reported to the Committee and to our executive.

612. Another document was shown to Mr Tony Speed, an ex DAC in the Metropolitan Police and also in the City of London Police, who was carrying out an inspection on behalf of the Home Office on the Royal Parks Police. He came to see me, and on a subsequent occasion Mr Ausling, and he was shown the paper that makes the least work, our various reports, how we carry out our reports, our report procedures and how we set ourselves targets and how we measure our effectiveness. It was his view that this was a highly effective and very good system and certainly he felt that it was a system that could well be introduced into the Royal Parks Police.

613. MR LEWIS: Thank you. If you want to summarise on jurisdiction please?

(Mr Stratton) There should be no confusion arising from an extended jurisdiction. There is confusion currently among the general public locally and the law enforcement agencies regarding the powers and the responsibilities of the parks constables. It is our view that the proposed legislative change would, in fact, remove current confusion.

614. There are numerous examples where jurisdiction might cause major problems, for example the Royal Parks Police work well within a defined and quite narrow jurisdiction but this overlaps with the Metropolitan Police and various other agencies. The Metropolitan Police and British Transport Police work together in harmony and the jurisdiction has never been, certainly to my knowledge, a public issue. Similarly the Ministry of Defence Police, Customs & Excise and the Military Police all work within their jurisdictions and this has never caused a conflict.

615. The parks police are aware of their jurisdiction, they have complied with relevant legislation for many years. The Metropolitan Police are equipped to deal with all questions of jurisdiction in that they work with the Royal Parks Police, British Transport Police, the MoD Police, the Military Police, Customs & Excise and the rest, all of whom work within their own jurisdiction.

616. A memorandum of understanding between the Metropolitan Police, Wandsworth division and the Wandsworth Parks Police has provided a vehicle for a close and harmonious relationship.

617. MR LEWIS: A copy of that is document 3C, we mentioned it yesterday.

(Mr Stratton) Our inspector attends the Metropolitan Police Divisional Inspectors meeting. We have regular, at least weekly, meetings with the Metropolitan Police. In summary I do not think there is anything radical about the proposal for wider powers of the parks constabulary, wider powers work well in the Royal Parks Police, which is a very close analogy, and where wider powers appear to work effectively.

618. Currently I think there is confusion over powers and the parks police. The additional powers asked for will far from creating confusion lessen it. Further I think the powers will release Metropolitan Police Officers to carry out intelligence­led, focused police operations in our town centres and residential area so leaving the parks police open to police the open spaces in the parks, as has been done for many years by the Royal Parks Police.

619. MR LEWIS: One final point, obviously you are here representing Wandsworth Borough Council, you might be able to give the Committee an indication of how many other parks constabularies exist in London. If so, do you have any idea if they are four square behind what is proposed in the Bill in terms of the extension of powers?

(Mr Stratton) There are, to my knowledge, 4 other parks police organisations within London, three of whom would very definitely wish to go along the line that we do. As to their training and their capability I can certainly say I think it is outstanding because it was carried out by the Wandsworth Parks Police. The fourth one is a fairly new parks constabulary in Hammersmith and Fulham. I know they are particularly active but I have not had the opportunity of discussing really what they would like on this particular issue, not at any senior level within the council.

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