Wednesday, 8 August 2012

How Is This Not Impersonating a Police Officer?

My thanks to Mike Law for flagging this up. Take a look at his photo above, snapped in East Ham, of 'London Borough of Newham Law Enforcement' officers. For all the world, they look like WPCs.

Back in 2005, Newham council's former Head of Legal Services, Amanda Kelly, was commissioned to undertake an independent external investigation [PDF] into the borough's Crime and Anti-Social Behaviour Division Community Constabulary. This followed allegations of mismanagement and serious misconduct by some its 'Community Constables', which included unlawful stop and search operations, illegal possession of potentially lethal extendable batons while on duty and an allegation that a member of the Constabulary's staff had handcuffing a Stratford resident.

In the course of her investigation, Kelly found that as a result of the gradual adoption of police ranks and titles and the choice of Hertfordshire police as its uniform supplier, the appearance of council staff patrolling Newham's streets was “almost indistinguishable from police officers”. As a result, Community Constables had started to behaviour as if they actually possessed police powers when they did not. The council had allowed, in effect, the growth of a private quasi-police force in the borough. Kelly added:
“Indeed, when I went out with the Constabulary, the officers I accompanied were mistaken for Police officers and I am not aware that they did anything to disabuse those making the mistake.

I consider that the uniform currently worn by the Constabulary is such that it closely resembles that of the police and therefore brings its wearers into danger of contravening s.90 of the Police Act 1996 – impersonating a police officer”.
Section 90 says:
Any person who, not being a constable, wears any article of police uniform in circumstances where it gives him an appearance so nearly resembling that of a member of a police force as to be calculated to deceive shall be guilty of an offence and liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding level 3 on the standard scale.

Unsurprisingly, Kelly recommended that council officers's uniforms were “clearly differentiable from that of MPS [Metropolitan Police Service] officers”.

Following a scandal like this, it might be expected that the local council would take extra special care in future. Seven years on, Newham's Community Constables are now called 'Enforcement Officers' and since 2011, a number had been granted limited police powers under the government's Community Safety Accreditation Scheme. However, it seems that with the passage of time, little has been learned from Amanda Kelly's warnings. As the photo above shows, the new-look 'law enforcement officers' are just as indistinguishable from Metropolitan police officers as they were back in 2005 and just as likely to be mistaken for such by the public.

This failure to clearly differentiate from the uniforms of police constables still potentially contravenes section 90 and more alarmingly, there is the danger – just as there was seven years ago – that council 'enforcement' staff, seen as police by the people they meet on the streets, start to believe they really are cops. Anyone who has already encountered 'enforcement officers' will know many seem to have already mastered the arrogance, swagger and refusal to negotiate of the worst kind of unreconstructed police officer.
If the disreputable pranksters pictured above (my good friends the Space Hijackers) can be wrongly dragged before the courts for allegedly impersonating police officers in the most ridiculous circumstances, then breaches of section 90 must be an issue that the Met takes extremely seriously. So why, yet again, is history repeating itself in Newham?


Anonymous said...

The pic shows them,doing what they must do best. It's what I see them doing in all parts of the country.
Those i that whether police or other.

Anonymous said...

This is an extremely worrying development.

The use of local government officers, equipped with police type uniforms and vehicles, is a deliberate and cynical political move by Wales and his mate Macken to demonstrate their commitment to tackling the public's concerns over low level criminal behaviour.

In reality their "presence" does little to combat these genuine concerns but leads to the creation of a highly politicised private police force. More worrying still is the links between members of this group and serving Metropolitan Police officers. Often these links extend into both the professional and the private sphere.

Newham has,I understand, several part time PCSO's who have been seconded from their employment with the Borough. The increasing politisation of policing in Newham places an enormous responsibility on these individuals and their management teams. Unfortunately however senior management in Newham have already shown their lack of integrity by their constant subservience to Robin Wales and his henchmen.

The lack of any ethical underpinning of local governemnt within Newham has only made matters worse and I suspect it can only be a matter of time before we hear rumours about serious professional misconduct or crinminal negligence involving these individuals.

Birdman said...

One other fact from Newham is that in their original guise of the Parks Constabulary, the elected Mayor authorised the spending of over £4000 to purchase extendable batons for them. Although they were trained in their use, they were never deployed, largely because of public opposition. An FOI request had to go all the way to the Information Commissioner before the legal advice was disclosed (the process takinh some 2 years) and when it was disclosed, it was not dated and contradictory. Even the tame LBN barrister only agreed the use on the basis someone else had! Hardly a reason in law.

Worryingly, the whereabouts of those batons remains unknown and there are now fears that they will be deployed to this latest private force.

Anonymous said...

Maybe the Space Hijackers could produce "Law Enforcement" decals for people to put on their own cars, just like Newham council officers have?

After all, in the Big Society, we all need to contribute to ensuring the lawful running of our own communities, and do even have the right to make citizens arrests where appropriate.

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