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Wednesday, 5 December, 2001, 17:24 GMT
Wardens welcome patrol reform
Stockport Town Wardens Office (image from Stockport Metropolitan Borough Council)
The wardens have a high profile presence
David Blunkett's police reforms have given new powers to neighbourhood and community wardens to tackle anti-social behaviour.

The government pledged more than 13m last year to help neighbourhood warden schemes across the UK.

One project which is running successfully is the Stockport Town Warden Scheme which employs 16 uniformed wardens to patrol the centre of the town.

The scheme's manager welcomed the introduction of similar units across the country but said he had reservations over the possibility of giving police powers to civilians.

People in the town recognise us and come and ask for help when they need it

Town warden

Since 1998 the town wardens have patrolled the streets and car parks around Stockport from 0900 GMT - 1700 GMT six days a week.

Dave Curtis, the manager of the scheme, said: "The first aim of our scheme is to give unemployed people work experience and the chance to get back into employment.

"The second aim is to be the eyes and ears of the town for the council and police."

The wardens all carry radios which they use to contact the main office to ask for help or report an incident.

David Blunkett
David Blunkett wants to increase civilian role

Mr Curtis said: "We work closely with the police and all the emergency services.

"Recently there was a fire in a building which was being renovated. One of our wardens spotted it and was able to alert the fire service before it got out of control."

Robert Walsh was unemployed for 12 months before he became a town warden.

He is now considering applying for a job in security or a civilian position in the police force after coming to the end of his contract as a warden.

"The training for the job has been excellent. We had four weeks training showing us how to deal with various incidents, how to deal with aggression, first aid and how to liaise with the police," he said.

Mr Walsh believes the scheme has made the town centre a safer place to be.

Vital witnesses

"People in the town recognise us and come and ask for help when they need it.

"One time we saw a car which was being broken into and we were able to describe the offender to the police which meant he was eventually caught."

The wardens have also had some success dealing with groups of local youths.

Mr Walsh said: "They see us liaising with the police and seem to listen to us."

However Mr Curtis said he would not want to see the wardens being given special powers, such as the power of arrest.

In the limited consultation we've done we've found that people are wary of powers of enforcement

Stephen O'Hagan, Stockport Metropolitan Borough Council

He said he would not want to see them becoming a civilian police force.

"The police have a different recruitment and training. We are taking unemployed people and we receive applications for a different type of person to the police force," he added.

But he would like to see the scheme run in Stockport extended to other areas.

"It certainly works for Stockport and it would certainly work elsewhere," he said.

Stockport Metropolitan Borough Council is now planning to extend the project into the areas around the town centre with a scheme targeting residential areas.

Stephen O'Hagan, head of estate management, also expressed reservations over the idea of greater powers for civilian wardens.

"In the limited consultation we've done we've found that people are wary of powers of enforcement.

"There's a feeling it might create a barrier between the community and the wardens.

"It's an issue of generalist roles compared to specialist roles. Policing is a specialist role."

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See also:

05 Dec 01 | UK Politics
Blunkett to unveil radical police reform
02 Dec 01 | UK Politics
Plan to reform 'failing' police
29 Nov 01 | UK Politics
Police anger over Blunkett reforms
12 Jul 01 | UK Politics
Blunkett reveals police reform plans
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