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Last Updated: Wednesday, 28 April, 2004, 00:08 GMT 01:08 UK
Private 'police' confuse public
By Dominic Casciani
BBC News Online community affairs reporter

David Blunkett
Street wardens are among those now enforcing the law
Local policing is becoming fragmented by the growth of private patrols driven by residents' demands for more bobbies on the beat, researchers say.

A Leeds University study found the public confused about who does what in areas where private security staff work

The report, funded by the Rowntree Foundation, said there needed to be better supervision and co-ordination.

The government has recently changed the law to expand the use of private or community officers.

But according to the research by Leeds University's Centre of Criminal Justice Studies, the roles of additional "policing" services are unclear, leaving the public confused as to what they can expect of them in tackling crime.

1994: Police allowed to contract out officer time
2000: Neighbourhood wardens launched
2001: Licensing for private security firms (not yet in place)
2002: Community support officers (CSOs) launched
2003: On-the-spot fine powers expanded for CSOs
Where we once only had bobbies on the beat, legislation now allows private patrolling on estates by security guards, community support officers who are linked to the police, neighbourhood wardens working for councils and volunteers.

Police forces have also been allowed since 1994 to offer officers to organisations on a paid contract basis for additional duties.

The research across Yorkshire and Humberside found private security firms had identified residential services as a key growth area for their companies in response to growing anxiety about crime.

But three-quarters of housing associations wanted the police to improve the accreditation and co-ordination of work by private providers of security and patrolling services.

Crucially, the team behind the report found that the division of tasks between the police and other providers tended to be poorly organised.

In some areas there was plenty of communication between private security firms, community safety wardens and the police. In other areas there was an air of indifference, competition or even hostility. Some police officers believed private patrols were counter-productive.

'Trust essential'

Prof Adam Crawford, co-author of the report, said there needed to be more joined-up thinking.

"Greater mutual understanding and trust are essential if the local delivery of community policing by different providers, with different roles and powers, is to become a joined-up endeavour," said Prof Crawford.

"There is an urgent need for better local liaison between the police, crime and disorder partnerships and the private sector."

The government has made tackling anti-social behaviour a key plank of its programme - and said that it wanted flexible solutions to difficult problems.

In 2000, ministers launched the neighbourhood wardens scheme which places uniformed council-employed officers on the streets of estates.

These wardens act as a link to other services, theoretically guaranteeing speedier responses to everything from gang disorder to abandoned vehicles.

Legislation followed in 2001 for the licensing of private security guards and the 2002 Police Reform Act introduced civilian community support officers. These uniformed teams have powers to patrol areas and issue on-the-spot fines.

Prof Crawford said the landscape would change later this year with the expected completion of the licensing system for private security firms. But this could pose problems in itself if the police were allowed to continue the dual role of accreditor and competitor for some contracts.

"That is why we recommend the introduction of regional policing boards with responsibility for regulating and co-ordinating the 'extended policing family'.

"These new bodies could play a major role in enhancing community safety efforts and encouraging best practice."

The BBC's Danny Savage
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