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Wednesday, 5 December, 2001, 17:47 GMT
Opposition to police warden plans
Home Secretary David Blunkett touring a housing estate
Blunkett envisages a bigger role for civilians
Neighbourhood Watches in Wales have backed away from plans which they claim could give them new powers to tackle crime.

Home Secretary David Blunkett is expected to herald the biggest shake-up of the police service in decades when he unveils his Police Reform White Paper at Westminster on Wednesday.

Changes include creating civilian community support officers who would work alongside the police and would have the power to detain suspects - currently a police power.

Main proposals
New powers to civilian support officers
New occupational health unit to tackle sickness
Powers for intervention in failing forces
"Outmoded" practices to be scrapped

But organisers of the 3,500 neighbourhood watch schemes across south Wales, which protect more than 140,000 homes, are suspicious of what could be a new role - being civilian employees of the police.

Linda Spanswick is the national Neighbourhood Watch Association representative for south Wales, as well as the paid divisional NW co-ordinator for Bridgend county.

She said: "I'm concerned about the person on the street, that they do not put themselves in any kind of danger, not just physical danger but legal danger as well.

"If you are out there patrolling and you stop somebody and you lay a hand on them, that's assault.

"Where is the safety for the people in this? There has got to be a lot of training."

John Munton, spokesman for Cardiff's NW programme, said: "I wonder if Mr Blunkett is trying to get a cheap alternative to getting more police officers.

Policemen
Gwent officers have a high sickness rate

"It is the role of the police to arrest, it is the role of the public to give the information to the police to enable them to make the arrest."

The Police Federation, which has already launched a fierce attack on some elements of the plan, dubbed the idea of giving their unique powers to civilians "privatised policing by the back door".

Bryan Davies, deputy chief constable of Gwent Police, said: "If people are to do the type of work suggested, they need to be proplery trained.

"If they need police powers they should be police officers."

It is this issue which will bring the fiercest clash with 126,000 front-line officers, who also oppose proposed changes to their pay and working practices.

Meanwhile one of the forces with the highest sick leave rates has yet to comment on Mr Blunkett's reform White Paper, which includes details of a new unit to bring down sickness absence.

Gwent Police has the second highest sick leave problem of the England and Wales's 43 police forces.

Last year, the force lost almost 20,000 working days through illnesses and it is considering privately-funded medical care for officers on long-term leave in order to beat NHS delays.

According to the latest report from Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Constabulary, Gwent officers took an average of 15.4 days off through sickness in the year 2000/2001 - the average being 12.2 days.

A south Wales representative of the Police Federation gave a cautious welcome to the proposals but said the home secretary's plans for dealing with the issue would need close examination.

South Wales Police Federation Chairman Alan Parry Jones: "There is more to sickness than just reducing the number of days.

"We would need to see the proposals and the methodology he is using."

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 ON THIS STORY
Bryan Davies, Deputy Chief Constable Gwent Police
"If the amount of time officers spend on admin work is reduced, they can focus on real crime"
See also:

19 Jul 01 | UK
Violent crime on the rise
19 Jul 01 | UK Politics
Crime figures: In detail and by area
05 Dec 01 | UK Politics
Blunkett to unveil radical police reform
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