By James Slack
The number of town hall snoopers and private security guards armed with sweeping police powers has rocketed by a fifth in only 12 months.
There are now 1,667 park wardens, dog wardens, car park attendants and shopping centre guards permitted to hand out fines for ‘crimes’ such as littering, dog fouling and criminal damage.
They may take photographs of the people they have fined, and demand names and addresses. A further 478 civilians have been given the power to stop vehicles to check for out-of-date tax discs.
The hope is that the army of civilians will free police officers from having to perform these unpopular tasks.
But critics said the so-called Community Safety Accreditation Scheme amounted to ‘state-sanctioned vigilantism’.
They said it created a third tier of policing, below properly trained police and community support officers.
Simon Reed of the Police Federation said: ‘What control do we have over these people?
‘They have got these powers and who are they accountable to? That is our concern and the public should be concerned as well.’
Alex Deane of Big Brother Watch said: ‘This is little less than state-sanctioned vigilantism. It’s even worse than policing on the cheap, it’s policing without the checks and balances that we get with the actual police force.
‘Councils are completely unequipped to police the pretend policemen they are licensing.
‘Even worse, the number of these officers is rising because councils want to send them out to collect the ludicrous fines for regulations we shouldn’t have imposed on us in the first place.’
Initially, the scheme was slow to get off the ground, but its popularity exploded last year while Jacqui Smith was Home Secretary.
This led to the snoopers being dubbed ‘Jacqui Smith’s irregulars’.
According to figures released yesterday, the number of civilians accredited under the scheme has increased from 1,406 to 1,667 in the past year.
The number of employers with accredited staff – including town halls – rose from 95 to 109.
In the case of private firms, the accreditation request is submitted to a company owned by the Association of Chief Police Officers, which has been criticised for running a money-raising business carrying out vetting checks.
Police minister David Hanson said: ‘This growth reflects the benefits of the scheme for the police and businesses.
‘Accredited persons help to tackle anti-social behaviour, and provide a visible and reassuring presence on our streets.’