Hundreds of police officers are being privately funded to patrol shopping centres, schools and carry out other specific tasks despite concerns there are not enough on the streets.
By Tom Whitehead, Mark Hughes and Sarah Rainey
7:00AM BST 15 Oct 2011
Officers across the ranks are being paid for by councils, the NHS and other bodies, The Daily Telegraph can disclose.
Some have their salaries met to patrol hospitals, town halls or work alongside trading standards or fire officers.
One chief inspector is even paid by the EU to advise Palestinian police.
At least 300 officers have their salaries met externally but the true figure could be much higher as only two thirds of forces responded to a Freedom of Information request.
The scale of the private policing last night raised concerns over officer impartiality and comes at a time when forces are facing up to 20 per cent cuts which will see 16,000 fewer officers by 2014.
One rank and file leader warned if the flexibility of the police is damaged the public will be put at risk.
Paul McKeever, chairman of the Police Federation, said: “These are pretty desperate times we are in in terms of police funding.
“We are going to lose 16,000 officers in the next three years and although it is not ideal for other agencies funding police officers we have to make sure there is absolute accountability and that they are working for the police service.
“We have to remember we are an emergency service. We have to maintain flexibility. It is important that the police service has the flexibility and if it loses that in the coming years it puts public safety at risk.”
The Daily Telegraph investigation revealed the practice of effectively paying for police across the country.
Forces insist officers remain under the command of chief constables and can be deployed for other duties if needed.
But while the officers remain under the operational control of their forces, the reality is that they will often be based at a location of their new sponsors choosing and will primarily focus on issues affecting the schools, councils and shopping centres who pay their wages.
It means officers are routinely being paid for by outside agencies to carry out specific tasks rather than general policing.
In Northumbria, an inspector and three constables are deployed at a shopping centre and surrounding retail park in Gateshead.
A spokesman for the force said the inspector is responsible for managing police resources in the command area and is accountable for its crime and disorder performance while the constables deal with all police related incidents within the area.
In Thames Valley, funding is provided for a constant police presence at Milton Keynes hospital. A spokesman said it would involved different officers covering in shift patterns and involved “general patrol duties and security” at the hospital.
North Wales Police has funding provided to have a full time officer stationed at the Airbus factory in Broughton, Flintshire.
Leicestershire police has a chief superintendent on secondment in Kosovo and a constable at De Montfort University.
And West Mercia has EU funding so a chief inspector can advise the Palestinian Civil Police under a European programme.
There are also a large number of officers based in schools, universities and town halls.
David Hanson, Shadow Policing Minister, said: “Whilst partnerships contributing to the work of the police are welcome we must be sure to maintain the impartiality and operational independence of all police officers.
“We must also prevent the loss of the 16,000 officers set to go from across the country because of this government’s frontloaded and severe cuts to the police.
“That is the change that will make the biggest difference in fighting crime and prevent communities suffering from disorder.”
The findings come as cash-strapped forces increasingly look to the private sector to provide some backroom functions.
Nick Herbert, the policing minister, said in January that he was in favour of the private sector taking on some roles and that there should be “no ideological barrier to change”.