A progress report on a trial involving security staff at Addenbrooke’s hospital being given police powers, including the ability to administer summary justice via fixed penalty tickets, was presented to Cambridgeshire Police Authority on the 30th of September 2009. It revealed that only “managers” had been given the powers and the powers had not been used between the date the scheme started, on the 21st July 2009, and the end of August when the latest figures were available. It was reported that the “threat of application of powers, has helped on several occasions to prevent an escalation of problems.” Personally I strongly dislike policing by threats and do not think the police authority ought be condoning such behaviour.
Security Guard’s Access to the Police National Computer
Access to the Police National Computer by the empowered civilians was clearly a matter which had caused discussion prior to the meeting. PNC checks are required before summary justice is dispensed to ensure summary justice is appropriate for the individual being dealt with. At Addenbrooke’s such checks are indirect, with the civilian wearing the badge indicating they’ve got police powers calling the police control room and the police staff deciding on a case by case basis what to tell them.
No Firm Assurance from Chief Constable
Police Authority member Mr Wilkins asked for a firmer assurance than had already been given that no further civilians would be given police powers. The chief constable did not give the categoric reply which was being sought, but instead stated that while she had no plans to, if something came up requiring such designation she might use her powers to designate further civilians. I actually think this is a reasonable stance, she might need to designate new VOSA officers for instance; however she could have given an assurance that she would not be giving further security guards or others such as club and pub bouncers in the county given police powers.
Complaints Against Security Guards with Police Powers
Benjamyn Damazer and Mr Wilkins asked about how any complaints against the security guards with police powers would be dealt with. They appeared to be saying that the chief constable had a choice to make about how any complaints are to be handled. They were urging the chief constable to make a decision before a complaint was received. The chief constable said she had not considered the matter, and only following pressure from Mr Wilkins did she agree to consider it after the meeting.
Mr Wilkins also asked if there was scope to separate the judicial element of the role – the giving of tickets, from other aspects, with respect to the way complaints were dealt with. The chief constable replied that she didn’t know.
It shall be the duty of a chief officer of police who establishes and maintains a community safety accreditation scheme to ensure that the employers of the persons on whom powers are conferred by the grant of accreditations under section 41 have established and maintain satisfactory arrangements for handling complaints relating to the carrying out by those persons of the functions for the purposes of which the powers are conferred.
Was Cambridge City Council Consulted?
The report to the Police Authority stated that the scheme had been brought in “After consultation with the Police Authority and local authorities”; the Police Reform Act requires this. When I asked Cambridge City Councillors at the South Area Committee (the trial is taking place in that area) if and how the City Council had been consulted they said Cllr Amanda Taylor indicated they not aware of any consultation.
It is unacceptable that the chief constable says she is not able to properly police Addenbrookes hospital. At the December 2008 meeting of the Police Authority which I observed she stated:
“At Addenbrooke’s – there is no way we can give the level of service we need to give, especially as it grows.”
This is the problem which should be being focused on. We need more real police officers to do the core job of policing which is keeping order and keeping people safe. Giving police powers to security managers is a distraction from this underlying problem with police priorities.
In addition to that, giving police powers, particularly summary justice powers, to security guards, bouncers, and others risks damaging police-public relations even further and risks people losing respect for those given the authority of police powers if they are not used appropriately.