By Murray Wardrop
A growing number of civilians are being granted police-style powers allowing them to issue fines and demand personal details from the public.
More than 2,200 workers including council wardens, security guards and countryside rangers are being given the powers, through which they can levy fines of up to £80.
The so-called Community Safety Accreditation Scheme (CSAS) was derided by senior Tories when in opposition, but the number of people empowered by the scheme has swollen by a third in the past year.
Police and civil liberties campaigners have raised concerns over the accountability of civilians signed up to the scheme and the advance of Britain’s surveillance state.
Simon Reed, vice chairman of the Police Federation, said: “I’m sure that the public would have huge concerns knowing that we have people walking around in this pseudo-enforcement role without proper accountability and legitimacy.”
Under the scheme, councils, NHS trusts and private sector companies can pay a fee of a few hundred pounds for Home Office accreditation via their local police force.
They can then get employees accredited for as little as £32 per person, with each required to undergo a training course and receive a special badge from their police force’s Chief Constable.
In addition to issuing fines for misdemeanours such as dog fouling, graffiti and dropping litter, the accredited civilians are also entitled to take people’s names and addresses and seize alcohol from under-age drinkers. It is an offence to refuse their demands.
However, they have no power to detain or arrest individuals and must call police for assistance if they suspect someone of a criminal offence.
The scheme was criticised by Tories in opposition, with Dominic Grieve QC, then the shadow home secretary but now the Attorney General, accusing the government of a “staggering complacency towards the extension of surveillance”.
But the number of people signed up to the programme rose from 1,667 at the end of 2009 to 2,219 last year, Home Office figures disclose.
The figures, released following a request by the Daily Mail under the Freedom of Information Act, also showed the number of approved organisations allowed to enrol individuals on to the scheme rose more than 60 per cent over two years, from 95 in 2008 to 153 at the end of last year.
In March this year, Scotland Yard gave 15 private security guards the limited policing powers to operate around Victoria coach and railway stations in central London, one of Britain’s busiest transport hubs.
In opposition in August 2008, Mr Grieve said: “The public want to see real police on the streets discharging these responsibilities, not private firms who may use them inappropriately, including unnecessarily snooping on ordinary citizens.
“This is a consequence of the government’s obsession with policing on the cheap as well as their staggering complacency towards the extension of surveillance.”
There are huge concentrations of accredited civilians in some areas – including 366 in Essex, 223 in Gwent, and 124 in Cleveland.
In Merseyside, Bedfordshire and Cumbria, by contrast, the police forces do not operate the scheme at all.
Nick Pickles, director of civil liberties campaign group Big Brother Watch, told the Daily Mail: “In some cases this appears to be policing on the cheap, in others it is downright ridiculous. The Coalition should recognise the risk this scheme poses to civil liberties and urgently act to curtail it.”