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Wednesday, 30 January, 2002, 14:16 GMT
Should civilians police our streets?
Plans to impose wide-ranging reforms of the police service in England and Wales are being published in the government's Police Reform Bill.

Under the proposals, new civilian wardens - to be called "community support officers" - will have the power to detain suspects until the police arrive.

The government says the wardens will not take the place of police officers, but would free them up to work on more serious crime.

But the plans have prompted concern among the ranks of police officers.

They say dealing with people on the street is hard enough for fully trained officers, and would be even more difficult for civilians.

Should civilians be given extra powers to help police the streets? Is this a better use of resources?

This Talking Point has now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.

No, I'm not happy about civilians with limited training being given these powers, but neither am I happy at the level of crime we all face, and the fact that the police just don't seem to care or make any attempt to deal with most crime shows that training and a badge do not make for an effective law enforcement official! I've suffered three burglary incidents in the last few years, and no-one from the police would even come to look or take any details other than my name and address over the phone. At least this idea is an attempt to do something different, as the current policies are just not working. If the police don't like it they should either try harder themselves or come up with a better idea, and not just the same old blaming lack of resources: I've travelled the world and few countries I've been to spend as much as we do on law and order to such little effect!
Bernard, UK

I would much prefer the government to dish out much harsher penalties to criminals

Duncan, England
In principal increasing the number of law enforcement officers on the streets cannot be a bad thing, I will certainly feel a bit safer. However, the problem we have in this society is not the lack of police on streets. it is the large quantities of criminals walking free to commit all types of crime, safely in the knowledge that little action will be taken against them when (or if) they go to court, a system that appears to be more supportive of the criminals than the victims. I would much prefer the government to dish out much harsher penalties to criminals, rather than forcing honest, hardworking tax payers to pay more to protect themselves from people who should not be allowed to walk the streets in the first place.
Duncan, England

No, civilians should not police our streets - The police should. They should stop their obsession with traffic policing and get back to actively trying to catch criminals.
Iain Alexander, UK

So the Government says the introduction of these wardens will free up real police officers to work on more serious crime. May I suggest they "free up" some of their traffic police to tackle more serious crime but wait, I forgot, fining motorists makes the police money doesn't it!
Steve, UK

Their would be no need for these civilian support units if we instead re-populated our streets with the officers we already have. Contrary to popular belief there are more police officers than ever, the problem is that their duties do not seem be related anymore to actual police work. In fact the only people who are regularly targeted on a day by day basis by the police are motorists. So if we really want to see more police around our streets then some one is going to have to prise them from their warm stations, police cars, helicopters and their stress related sick beds. I think this may have the beneficial effect reducing real crime, and you never know it may even restore some public respect for them, from motorist at least.
Vincent , Liverpool England

This is an attempt at policing on the cheap - a ploy to get the Government out of the hole it has dug for itself. Unfortunately if you employ second-class policeman the result will be second class policing and the inevitable problems that will cause. Instead of cheap solutions the Government should start living up to its promises and deliver better policing.
Martha, England

The Government seem too willing to bring in new legislation without thinking things through

Andy, UK
What measures are being taken to ensure these pseudo policemen are not ex convicts, drug dealers, child abusers etc? Also would there be implications regarding human rights, false imprisonment and other legal issues. The Government seem too willing to bring in new legislation without thinking things through. Also how many proper policemen could be employed for the cost of these lookalikes? I think the Government interfere in the police too much and are using the police as a political tool.
Andy, UK

With the police already struggling to maintain their weakened reputation, the last thing they need is an army of "jobsworth" proxies upsetting the public and attracting more lawsuits and bad publicity.
Andrew Cover, UK

What training in the law will these people get? This is so typical of New Labour; pay poor wages for unqualified people to do jobs in which they will be well out of their depth. We see the same in the NHS and schools.
Chris Klein, UK

If civilians can police our streets then why not more policemen?

If civilians can police our streets then why not more policemen?

Citizen's arrest is a little extreme in my opinion, much better would be to give legal protection for people who defend themselves against assault (inc. robbery, muggings etc). I'm sure this would decrease the crime rate, as potential criminals would then fear "victims" who are not so easily defeated.
Chris, UK

If civilians are allowed to patrol our street I dread the outcome. It is quite the norm in the part of England where I live, for families to be persecuted because they do not speak with the same accent etc. We have been the victims of car crime and also of well-intended concerned neighbours. It sends shivers to imagine the sort of vigilantes this scheme would attract. Pay peanuts get monkeys.
kmatthews, usa

If someone wants to be a police officer then they should join the police service

John, UK
There should be more police officers or failing that more special constables. To have civilians with powers of detention is asking for trouble and is open to abuse. If someone wants to be a police officer then they should join the police service/force or become a special. Having seen the attitude of various traffic wardens, I would not want them to have powers of detention, whatever that may mean.
John, UK

It seems to me we need more policemen, and we need to have 'less qualified' policemen who can deal with certain more menial tasks. There's a world of difference between investigating a murder for example, and football crowd control, or traffic control.
Andy Brown, UK

It is an utterly ridiculous idea in my view! We need more properly trained police and a higher police presence, not just some exaggerated neighbourhood watch! We also need to look at sorting out the image of the police as it has taken a knock with cases of brutality and racism, and only once this is eradicated then society will become more positive towards the police, and then more people will see it as a rewarding career path.

Entry requirements for joining the police should be raised, to keep high standards, but at the same time wages must be raised accordingly, as policing is one of the most important jobs around. Also the idea of private security guards getting more rights fills me with dread too, what next nightclub bouncers having these rights! Invest in the professionals I say!
James, Stafford, UK

Such a proposal will effectively give street criminals the authority to police themselves

Chris B, England
This looks like yet another of Mr. Blair's ill-considered and imbecilic cost-cutting exercises. If implemented, such a proposal will effectively give street criminals the authority to police themselves and will inevitably charge citizens with the responsibility for the consequences. Are the implications of this too easy for the government to grasp - or have they simply chosen to forget that one reason we pay tax is for the upkeep of an effective police force?
Chris B, England

When is the UK going to get a proper government that stops coming up with these stupid ideas. This scheme will be open to vigilante abuse and also put untrained civilians in potentially dangerous situations. If this government actually gave a damn about the country you would see proper policing, public transport, NHS, education ...the list goes on. I believe that most of the questions and responses on this site recently have been about how badly the government is dealing with public services. Labour needs to go!
Dan, Ireland - Ex UK

If I interpret the title of the talking point correctly, citizens already have - or at least a few years ago had ( I don't know whether the situation has changed ) - the legal power to detain a wrong doer until the police arrive. It used to be called a citizens arrest and gave the citizens of the country the power to use as much force as was reasonably necessary to detain such miscreants as burglars, street robbers etc. This has probably been abolished under the PC envelope, meaning that anybody who performs their civil duties in this manner would probably be prosecuted for wrongful imprisonment or assault.
Chris B, England

Street crime is virtually endemic in this awful country and has to be stopped. Yes, civilians should be able to police our streets and let's give them the tools to do the job effectively- like automatic weapons.
Andy F, UK

Oh dear, they can be serious. If there was shortage of Doctors would you get civvies to care for the patients? No! The same goes for police work, this will draw lots of the wrong kind of people. Police work is very serious and often dangerous work, I'm all for community cooperation with the police, but this is another cheap scheme to tackle big issues that require real solutions, not stop-gap measures.
Michael, Dublin, Ireland

Are the police officers going to have medical training, and surely there is a serious infringement of civil liberty at stake. I would call taking blood without consent assault- however you package it.
Edward O'Riordan, United Kingdom

This proposal amounts to little more than creating uniformed vigilantes

Brian, UK
This proposal amounts to little more than creating uniformed vigilantes.
Brian, U K

I think that if every crime was reported instead of people saying "Why should I bother? They'll only say there's nothing they can do." I think the figures would frighten any government into doing something about it, as opposed to saying "Reported crime is down 3% this month" and filing that under "successes". If this is the only way we are going to get more trained policemen then so be it.
Howard Bennett, Bristol, England

It is an utterly ridiculous idea in my view! One of the core parts of police training is the development of personal skills and helping to defuse potential violent situations. Will "Little Hitlers" in uniform be as effective?
Martin, England

I think the government should take a leaf out of Omni Consumer Products (US company), and put research into developing a robotic version of the police officer. Expensive, but less so in the long run in my opinion. It certainly makes more sense than giving power and responsibility to undertrained CSOs.
Chris B, UK

Civilian wardens may not be the ideal solution but what other choice is there?

Brian Langfield, Doncaster, UK
Civilian wardens may not be the ideal solution but what other choice is there? Standards in our society are in terminal decline, and if this experiment does not work I believe it inevitable that we will need our Army to patrol the streets and protect citizens from the malicious violence so prevalent in daily British life.
Brian Langfield, Doncaster, UK

This initiative is going to suffer difficulty at the hands of street criminals. How are they going to deal with people when in many street confrontations the police are left with little option but relatively violent arrest? And that follows extensive training to cope with these situations, being armed with batons and restraining equipment and very extensive legal authority over the situation. These hoodlums have no respect for the police so how are they going to respond to the new wardens?

Regardless of a person¿s motive for joining I can see this warden force as an under equipped and under powered organisation. Let¿s not forget that the seriousness of a situation can rarely be gauged ahead of confronting the problem. It¿s not the nice members of society that they are going to have to deal with and, sadly, I can see lots of them getting hurt. Why not just give the existing coppers a bit more presence, respect and authority by arming them with batons, jackboots and big guns? It seems to work for the French and the Germans.
Iain, UK

If this a route the government wants to take then hand this task to private security firms. For starters, they have the right tools to do the job and as they have to be properly licenced it would root out people who would want to take the law into their own hands. To use civilians is a bad, bad idea.
MarkS, Canada (Ex UK)

Paul B, Oxfordshire, UK

Wardens on the streets will only create public order offences for police officers to attend when they are overstretched as it is. This ill conceived package of Police Reform includes changes to the Pay and Conditions of real police officers, which will result in the majority being worse off. Morale is at an all time low . Police officers have fewer rights than the criminals and members of the public they deal with. They have opted out of Human Rights legislation and the Working Time Directive. They have no right to strike. The police reforms will be pushed through and any rumblings from the ranks will be dismissed as 'Dinosaur Police Officers Refusing Reform'. Police officers earn less than average wages....could you do it?
Helen, UK

Civilians have always had the right to use Citizens' Arrest, it's just that the average person actually has the courage or the strength to use it when it matters. Asking anyone to volunteer to police our streets would be to invite vigilantes, which are the last thing we need. What happened to the "Specials"?
Hazel, UK

Police work should be left to the professionals

Steve Hodgson, UK
No. Inevitably it will be the "wrong" type of person who joins this scheme, for example the thug who thinks paedophiles should be castrated with pliers, nosey old women, and generally unsuitable people. Police work should be left to the professionals. Perhaps if the police force were better supported the government would not be tempted with these daft schemes.
Steve Hodgson, UK

I can understand the Police's concerns, and would have great respect for anyone willing to take on the criminal thugs who blight our society (from bitter experience, I know they are there). However I would rather see a change in the sentencing policy. At the moment, they can be arrested, and then sentenced to just a few months in jail, while anyone with any sense (i.e. not the judges) knows that they will return to causing mayhem and misery on day one of their release.
Andy C, UK

Wasn't this the plot of one of the Police Academy films? Nice to know our politicians are showing their usual degree of connection with reality.
David Hazel, UK

Will these "community support officers" have the same levels of training and accountability as the police? If not, there's an obvious potential problem, and it looks like the thin end of a privatisation wedge. I have to wonder why they don't just recruit more members for the existing police force - surely that's simpler and much less controversial!
J White, UK

This scheme will take relatively untrained people and put them in often dangerous situations. I expect this scheme will be forced ahead by this stupid government until one or more CSOs get killed trying to arrest violent criminals. We want highly trained, well-paid and respected police. This seems to simply be a scheme to get more faces, of whatever quality, 'on the beat' at a discount price. Unfortunately, you get what you pay for - and we will end up with poorly policed society as a result.
David, UK

The idea of civilians patrolling our streets fills me with dread; there are serious problems regarding corruption, or civilians with their own 'agendas'.
TJ, England

It is wrong when the government is prepared to significantly increase our taxes just to give the money away to their 'supporters' and then claim they don't have enough for the police, schools and NHS. Blair should make up his mind as to whom he represents - those who voted for him (40% of the population) or those who he claims to represent (100% of the population).
Martina, UK

It would be better to have more police but I do think it is a step in the right direction. I live in Bradford and have had my car broken into on my drive twice in the last 3 months. Smaller crimes like this appear to be ignored. Hopefully these people will be able to help with the smaller crimes, leaving the police to deal with the more serious ones.
Kate, UK

See also:

25 Jan 02 | UK Politics
Police Reform Bill unveiled
25 Jan 02 | UK Politics
Beat officers 'oppose police reforms'
05 Dec 01 | UK Politics
'Radical' police reform unveiled
05 Dec 01 | England
Wardens welcome patrol reform
12 Jul 01 | UK Politics
Blunkett reveals police reform plans
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