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Exclusive: Private Patrols In The Public Space

Police Oracle examines the potential for public patrols to be provided by the private sector

The chances of private companies patrolling the streets to complement the presence of police officers are not as unlikely as many may think.

Irrespective of the rights and wrongs of the “police privatisation” debate, which will continue for months to come, the prospect of security guards in an alternative uniform on the streets is ultimately realistic.

Under the Community Safety Accreditation Scheme (CSAS), chief constables already have the authority to delegate limited powers to organisations, devolved from the Police Reform Act, for the benefit of “community safety and security”.

In most cases this already allows firms to perform private patrols, supplying security guards to areas such as retail outlets. They operate under the same rules as those governing community support officers.

Patrolling in public areas would potentially come under the same accreditation scheme. Security firms could provide patrols in the public space, with or without powers of detention. They could also act as an extra pair of eyes for warranted officers and report information back.

But whether forces will take this step is another matter. There are also questions over whether the private sector would be willing to assist in any meaningful way, especially in the light of concerns from politicians, unions and staff associations who remain deeply suspicious about the move.

But outsourcing company Mitie, which is likely to compete for the proposed £1.5 billion Surrey and West Midlands private framework, said it would be willing to step in.

Director of Risk and Resilience, Andy May, said it would be a natural progression as the company already has some of the delegated powers to perform private duties in both Hatfield and Portsmouth.

Mr May said: “It would be an extension of what we currently do under the CSAS scheme, where (security) officers working in certain areas do have powers conferred on them from the Chief Constable.

“It includes the power to detain and they can dish out fixed penalty notices for certain offences.”

He went on to suggest that the initiative could be extended.

“We view it as supporting the police and working alongside them to allow them to do that strict police function with a warrant. The patrolling prospect can very easily be done by the private sector.”

However, not all private firms are in favour of taking on the responsibility.

Security giant G4S, which from April will provide a range of services for Lincolnshire Police, has ruled itself out. The company is also likely to be in the running to compete for the Surrey and West Midlands contract.

Managing Director for Policing Support Services, John Shaw, said public patrols could put employees at risk. “We are opposed to that”, he said.

“There are good business reasons why we wouldn’t do it (provide public patrols) – the risk to our employees, the risk to the public and the perception of the motivation of the private companies performing the roles would make it almost impossible to make it successful.

“PCSOs do have limited powers but they perform an important public service because they are, in many cases, part of the public sector.”

Steria, which competed for the Lincolnshire contract with G4S, also said it was unlikely to look at public patrols. A statement from the firm said: “We believe that frontline policing tasks will remain under the expertise of police forces.

“Private sector companies, like Steria, have complimentary skills which can be used to support forces, enabling the police to focus on core functions.”

Reliance Task Management echoed Steria’s comments.

A spokesman said: “Reliance does not have any ambition to replace warranted officers on the beat.

“This is a core area of policing and we see our role as one of supporting the police so they are in fact able to put more warranted officers on patrol for longer.”

Unions remain opposed to the patrolling issue. Anne Mitchell, from public sector union Unison, said the private sector had a commitment to profit and this had been expressed at the recent Bidders Conference staged by the Surrey and West Midlands forces.

She believed private companies would look at the patrolling issue eventually.

She said: “I think many companies would feel that (public patrols) are the next logical step for them. They provide security services – why would they not want to extend that?”

Two ACPO officers are to face questions from MPs today, Thursday March 22 as they appear before the Home Affairs Select Committee. Lynne Owens, Chief Constable of Surrey Police and Chris Sims, Chief Constable of West Midlands Police will take questions on outsourcing issues.

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