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Police alarm over new CSO powers

27 January 2006

The police have expressed concern that Home Office proposals to increase the standard powers of community support officers (CSOs) may lead to more “confrontation” with offenders.

The government response to a consultation on the role of CSOs in the community proposed giving the officers powers to enforce certain licensing offences, use reasonable force in the exercise of their duties and issue penalty notices for disorder (PNDs) to those committing anti-social behaviour. This is despite a number of police groups fearing such powers could lead to situations that CSOs are not trained to deal with.

The consultation, published in August 2005, stated: “Alcohol is a serious problem throughout the country and all CSOs should be able to take measures to minimise the damage it causes, therefore, powers to deal with alcohol abuse should be included in a set of standard powers.”

However, in the summary of responses to the consultation, published this week, the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO), the Police Federation (PF) and the Association of Police Authorities (APA) all opposed CSOs being able to enforce licensing offences. Despite the opposition, the Home Office responded that it was important for CSOs to “have sufficient powers to deal with low level crimes that arise in a neighbourhood policing context” and proposed that they be able to enter licensed premises, search for and confiscate alcohol, and issue a PND for drunk and disorderly behaviour.

The summary noted: “There were concerns that the reassurance and community role of CSOs would be adversely affected by designating them with additional powers, particularly enforcement and more ‘confrontational powers.” It also stressed that the City of London Police had expressed fears the extra powers would “require CSOs to be issued with equipment such as handcuffs and batons, which would protect them from increased confrontation”.

Home Office minister Hazel Blears said: “Introducing a standard set of robust powers for CSOs will allow them to contribute fully to neighbourhood policing and handle more issues on the spot, without recourse to a police constable.”

However, Police Federation chairman Jan Berry said: “We are disappointed the government response to this consultation on CSO powers has not provided clarity of role or a clear set of standardised powers. The PF provided the government with a clear role profile for CSOs and sensible limits and restrictions on the powers to be allocated.

“We supported the government in their aim to standardise CSO powers, however their response has merely served to add greater confusion to the already confused picture. Despite assurances from government ministers to the contrary, it appears CSOs will still have the power to use reasonable force. “

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