I’m Peter Webster, chief executive of Corps Security, and this is where I examine the issues affecting the security industry. My thoughts and opinions are intended to generate debate, and whether you agree or disagree with them, you’re welcome to post your comments below.
When the Police Reform Act 2002 came into effect, many of us focused on its creation of police community support officers (PCSOs). The fact that it also introduced the ability for chief constables to confer a limited range of police powers on other individuals as part of the Community Safety Accreditation Scheme (CSAS) often slipped under the radar. 13 years later this legislation is starting to affect the security industry, and the pros and cons of it appear equally weighted.
To sum it up, CSAS allows people to do some of the work usually carried out by police officers, by giving ‘accredited persons’ limited but targeted powers appropriate to their roles. Accredited persons can act upon a range of issues such as littering, underage drinking and graffiti, as well as dealing with general incidents of antisocial behaviour. While they do not have the power to detain or arrest, it is an offence for an individual to refuse to provide an accredited person with their name and address, or assault and obstruct them.
In the early days of CSAS, the response by police forces to private security organisations taking on additional powers was lukewarm at best, but the last few years have seen greater use of CSAS. Despite this, the Home Office appears reluctant to provide annually updated nationwide figures – the last survey it conducted was way back in December 2010 and showed there were 26 forces participating in the scheme with 2,219 individuals accredited with specific powers. Those numbers are certainly different now.
Another of the reasons for the initial low profile of CSAS was that police services had not experienced the cuts that they are dealing with today. Having lost nearly 16,000 officers from forces in England and Wales – the equivalent of losing all the police forces in the south west of England – the police service’s lack of ability, or willingness, to attend certain incidents has come under the spotlight.
In August a news story broke concerning attempted burglaries and how Leicestershire Police admitted only sending forensic officers to homes with an even number during a three-month trial, because it wanted to find out whether it had any impact on victim satisfaction rates. Police resources were also under intense scrutiny following the Hatton Garden Safe Deposit Robbery, when it was discovered that police decided not to respond to an intruder alert issued by the alarm receiving centre. These kinds of incidents have left many in the security industry concerned that they cannot rely on a police response when needed.
Much of the effectiveness of CSAS comes down to the quality of the individual and the training they are given. A chief constable may not grant accreditation unless they are satisfied that the person concerned has received adequate training from a National Police Chiefs’ Council approved provider. Furthermore, an organisation must accredit individuals as being fit and proper, and suitable to exercise the powers that are to be given to them.
Choosing the right people is of paramount importance and failing to give this subject proper consideration is a recipe for disaster. At one extreme, some security personnel could be excessively officious, while on the other, individuals could simply see their extra powers as an excuse to be more ‘heavy-handed’ in their actions. I think that some security organisations do not have the necessary selection procedures in place and this could put their employees and the public at increased risk.
One of my main concerns when it comes to security personnel operating under CSAS is what happens when things go wrong. While the onus is on security companies to ensure that the right people are deployed, it would be unreasonable to assume that the potential for things to get out of hand from time to time is non-existent. Issuing a fixed penalty to someone that is drunk and/or aggressive, and who sees an accredited person as nothing more that a ‘hobby bobby’, could easily lead to violence.
Therefore, in a dangerous situation, will security personnel get the kind of quick response from the police that they need, or will such incidents simply be downgraded? This is a question that the security industry as a collective must seek assurances on if closer cooperation between private companies and the police service under CSAS is to be mutually beneficial.
This issue is also something that a growing number of customers have to consider. Those wanting CSAS accredited persons is certainly on the rise, however, there are others who feel very uneasy about asking their security personnel to undertake the type of roles that are traditionally the domain of the police service.
The potential of CSAS to benefit both the police and security services is certainly there. It is, however, vital to ensure that high standards are maintained and that less scrupulous organisations do not exploit it purely for commercial gain, while ignoring the dangers that their employees and the public could face from poor decision making. I’d be interested to hear what you think, so post your comments below.