Tuesday 27 September 2005

Investigation accuses Newham Council of creating private police force

A major investigation by Newham Council into its own "Community Constabulary", following allegations of unlawful stop and search, institutional racism, and carrying of offensive weapons, has found that it has developed “without scrutiny and taken on a quasi-policing role without the Council having taken formal decisions about its direction and how it should operate" As a result, “the Constabulary has begun to function more like a private police force than a council service”

Mayor Sir Robin Wales in January 2005 described the council’s Community Constabulary as “the backbone of Newham Council’s fight against crime and anti-social behaviour”. Set up in 1998 as a Parks Constabulary, the team of Community Constables are now part of the borough's Crime and Anti-Social Behaviour Division and the role of its staff has been expanded from parks to include breaches of bye-laws on issues like graffiti, abandoned cars and fly-tipping.

However, the investigation report that followed complaints by Mike Law, councillor for Royal Docks ward in Canning Town, and a number of council staff members has revealed a host of highly damaging concerns about the growth of the Community Constabulary. The report reveals:

  • That since a review of the Parks Constabulary in 2002, no decisions about the Community Constabulary have been made by elected councillors but instead have been made by undocumented “instructions” from the Mayor, in breach of the Council’s Constitution.
  • That Newham council has not taken any legal advice, either internally or externally, on the powers of its Constabulary and has allowed Community Constables to wrongly think of themselves as police officers. Some have even (almost certainly illegally) appeared on the street sporting the word “police” on their uniforms. The report notes that the Constabulary “seems to have moved into this ‘policing role’ without considering the Council’s powers, the appropriateness of such a role and a number of other relevant factors. In short, it has drifted into a situation where there is a considerable amount of ambiguity over what the Constabulary is actually doing.”
  • That this worrying drift towards the exercise of legal powers that Community Constables do not posess is reflected in responses to complaints about noise, where officers have been “threatening to seize equipment, given warnings to people and made judgements on noise levels. Constabulary officers have no powers to warn or seize equipment and are not qualified to make judgements on statutory noise nuisance.”
  • That some Community Constables have carried extendable batons against the instructions of management
  • That there is an “extremely serious” lack of confidence by employees in their management and that “a significant number of staff perceive management as being bullying”. This has been coupled with an “almost total absence of management systems and procedures”, a culture of favouritism and allegations of racism.

The report also raises concerns from anecdotal evidence of stop and search operations – including that some police officers have concerns about vehicles being stopped - and also of a stop and search book where the names of those stopped are recorded. Management have denied that a stop and search book ever existed but some staff have indicated that it has “disappeared”.

The Community Constabulary received almost £1.4 million in Neighbourhood Renewal funding but is clearly in disarray. Councillors wouldn't know this from a raher more upbeat summary circulated to them by Chief Executive Dave Burbage on 20 September.

The report is expected to be discussed in October but the full version is unlikely to be made available to the public.

Radical Activist Newham has obtained a copy, however, which can be downloaded in Word format here.

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