From the current issue of Big Issue in the North magazine.
Hertfordshire Police give powers to G4S
Volunteers enlisted to be support officers
Government cuts for policing will result in a patchwork service reliant on volunteers and providing only 999 emergency assistance and some neighbourhood policing, says a police union official.
Ben Priestley, Unison national officer for police staff, was responding to the decision by Hertfordshire Constabulary to grant four G4S security guards police powers under the national Community Safety Accreditation Scheme, which allows forces to give limited powers to employees of other organisations. The guards will now be allowed to confiscate alcohol from under-18s and obtain the names and addresses of people breaking the law.
The new arrangements were backed by Neil Alston, chair of Herts Police Federation. “It is not a new thing and there are now numerous individuals who have been given these powers,” he said.
But when the issue was reported in UK Police News a number of anonymous police officers heavily criticised the scheme. “This is law enforcement going back to pre Sir Robert Peel’s policing set up!” said one officer.
According to Steve White, the Police Federation chair: “The decision to grant police powers should be based on operational needs only and should not be used as a replacement for falling numbers of police officers.”
Police constable numbers have fallen by over 16,000 (11.5 per cent) since 2010. The number of office and police staff fell to 209,362 last year from 244,497 four years previously.
Although the exact figures are unknown it has been reported that police forces can expect to have their 2015-2020 budgets cut, as in the last five years, by 20 per cent.
Priestley has witnessed major changes in policing this century. “Since Labour introduced the Police Reform Act in 2001 there has been a steady increase in officials with quite extensive police powers,” he said. “They include police community support officers (PCSOs), local authority and housing association staff, and employees of private companies.
“Last year, after major cutbacks everywhere in the numbers of paid PCSOs, Lincolnshire Police introduced volunteer PCSOs. Now we are finding that increasing numbers of police forces are starting to use volunteers to replace key staff. We are currently working with the College of Policing on a proper appraisal of what’s happening and remain concerned.”
Policing by consent
Modern policing – a full-time, professional, centrally- organised police force underpinned with policing principles – began with Sir Robert Peel’s creation of the Metropolitan Police in 1829. Similar bodies were then established across Britain.
Although they were initially unpopular in many locations the police successfully overcame much of this hostility by seeking to police by consent, such that each police constable was seen as a citizen in uniform.
But high-profile miscarriage of justice cases, deaths in police custody and events such as Orgreave in the 1984 Miners Strike led many people to question whether police officers were accountable to the law.
According to Dr Graham Smith, a senior lecturer in regulation at Manchester University and a policing expert: “This has reduced the effectiveness of bodies such as the Police Federation to defend the services they provide during a period when the government is seeking to slash public expenditure.
“I am not sure if politicians have a long-term strategy but you can bet the private security companies have and are putting together cost saving plans for the future that are likely to see more parts of the police service being chipped away, like is happening with Royal Mail.
“The result may be a two-tier service, one for the rich – many of whom do not really require the police because they live in gated communities and can use new technology to protect their assets such as cars – and the poor.”
Priestley said: “The huge cuts will leave forces unable to police the streets and volunteers being sought to help try and provide what should be a professional service. I don’t think the public yet realises that the police service will become basically 999 only, combined with a limited neighbourhood policing role. In many locations, policing will be delivered by a private security guard or a well meaning amateur.
“What is also worrying is that as more individuals are given policing powers they are not accountable for their actions as they are not covered by the Independent Police Complaints Commission.”