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Policing by Volunteer is ‘policing on the cheap’ – A dangerous notion which won’t happen in Northumbria

25th April 2016

Vera Baird has today condemned Theresa May’s proposals in the Policing and Crime Bill to use volunteers to police serious offences, after Home Office Minister James Brokenshire failed to rule out in full the use of police volunteers in cases of counter-terrorism or sexual abuse.

Commissioner Baird recently gave evidence to the House of Commons Committee of MPs who were scrutinising the Policing and Crime Bill and stated clearly that Policing should not be delivered on the cheap by volunteers being given police powers to detain to search and to investigate.

Northumbria’s Police & Crime Commissioner, Vera Baird said “In Northumbria we are very keen on volunteers but not instead of police and I want to assure local residents that Northumbria Police will only ever use the skills and expertise of professionally trained officers when dealing with serious offences. In my office we have volunteers who scrutinise failed case files to advise on best practice, oversee how police deal with complaints and in the police force itself we dip sample Out of Court Disposals to see that they are done well and have cadets we are proud of.  They are all a  valued asset to the force.

“However the government’s plans are to volunteers as substitute police officers. They intend to give them police powers when they may be volunteering for only a few hours a month and will certainly not be trained as police officers nor under any kind of contract nor subject to effective oversight. In Northumbria where we have suffered the worst cuts of all forces we will have lost close to one thousand officers by the end of this year. Obviously the government is trying to replace them with volunteers. But volunteers should be additional to police officers, to improve service, not in substitution for them without the training the pay or the experience.

“There will be people who are not paid, who are not contracted, who have no disciplinary link over them, who have no processes to go through, who are supervised in what way we do not know, who will not be overseen by the IPCC, and yet who will be able to have every power except the core ones. For instance, they will be able to execute warrants on houses, which means they will be able to break into houses to execute a warrant. they will be able to detain people for 30 minutes, though they will merely be volunteers and not contracted. They may be able to caution people and to take down their first account of something they are accused of. Presumably they will even be able to strip search people.

“Our police are now trained and prepared to deal with sexual abuse cases well and volunteers certainly cannot be deployed instead. The government is now refusing to rule that out.”

Vera Baird is now calling upon MPs of all parties to reject the ludicrous proposals by Theresa May and David Cameron when the Police and Crime Bill is debated in Parliament on Tuesday.

Mrs Baird added: “Local residents expect issues involving security and sexual assault to be dealt with professionally, by trained officers. Public confidence in how the police deal with such cases would be at risk if volunteers had responsibility for them. I reiterate, in Northumbria, such cases will always be dealt with by fully trained police officers.”

The amendments before Parliament, if passed, would also block government plans to give volunteers the same powers as Constables and prevent unpaid officers from attending scenes where force, restraint or CS spray may be required.

Labour will call for the safeguards amid concerns over reductions to the Police budget and the number of front-line officers.