Civilian snooping army doubles in four years

An army of official “snoopers” is being created after the number of civilians handed police-style powers almost doubled in the past four years, The Daily Telegraph can disclose.
Car park attendant

By Tom Whitehead, Home Affairs Editor
10:35PM GMT 13 Jan 2012

More than 2,500 citizens working for town halls and private security companies can hand out fines, take photographs of offenders and demand their names and addresses.

They are not accountable to the police, unless they break the law, and include car park attendants and dog wardens.

There are growing concerns among rank-and-file police officers that the powers granted under the Community Safety Accreditation Scheme are “blurring the lines” of legitimate law enforcement.

There were fewer than 1,400 official ”snoopers’’ in 2008, but their numbers have risen swiftly, with chief constables approving more and more. The last Government actively promoted the programme and encouraged private companies to sign up.

Rank and file police leaders said a “third tier” of policing was being developed and one critic warned of “policing on the cheap”.

Under the scheme, which began in 2002, a chief constable can give employees of councils or private companies limited powers to carry out specific, approved roles.

For some, that means the right to hand out on-the-spot fines for offences including disorder, truancy, dog fouling and littering, stop vehicles for roadside tests and confiscate alcohol or cigarettes from children.

They have a uniform and badge, but despite having to be approved by police chiefs, they remain under the full control of their employer who dictates their role and deployment. If they are accused of misconduct, the victim has to complain to the private employer and would have to sue in the civil courts if still unsatisfied.

Simon Reed, the vice-chairman of the Police Federation, said: “The public would have serious concerns that we are now creating a third tier of policing.

“They have some quite intrusive powers and they are not as accountable as a police officer. They seem to be increasing rapidly at a time when we are seeing reductions in properly sworn police officers.”

The large expansion of accredited civilians was revealed through requests under the Freedom of Information Act.

Involvement varies greatly across the country with some forces, such as Derbyshire and Humberside, not running a scheme, while Essex has more than 400 people approved.

In Essex, they include security guards, park rangers and anti-social behaviour coordinators.

There are more than 200 in the Metropolitan Police force area and almost 230 in Hertfordshire.

Nick Pickles, director of the civil liberties group Big Brother Watch, said: “In a democratic society it is simply wrong for one ordinary, untrained member of the public to be able to fine fellow citizens and demand their name and address. This scheme should be urgently brought to an end and policing left to the police.”

He warned that the scheme was “policing on the cheap” and condemned it as a “lasting indictment of the last Government’s authoritarian urges”.

Asst Chief Constable Alec Wood, of the Association of Chief Police Officers, said: “The Community Safety Accreditation Scheme is about the public, the private sector and the police working as a team to tackle the issues and priorities that matter most to our communities.

“The increasing uptake of the scheme by private and public organisations indicates how effective the scheme has been in addressing these priorities, which frees police officers to spend more time on patrol to increase community safety.”

A Home Office spokesman added: “Our number one priority is public protection. The Community Safety Accreditation Scheme assists the police in keeping communities safe.

“Powers are limited to dealing with low level crime, individuals are thoroughly vetted and training is approved by the relevant force.”

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