4000 WARDENS TO TACKLE CRIME WAVE; Dad's Army of Uniformed 'Police' Will Patrol the Streets to Deter Yobs - like Bobbies Used to Do
Byline: ALISON GORDON
ARMY of more than 4,000 'unofficial police officers' will be mounting security patrols on the streets of Britain by the start of next year.
They will wear uniforms, carry mobile phones and tour areas on foot or by car to deter burglars and teenage tearaways who vandalise their communities.
They will have no official powers but are designed to provide a visible presence on the streets to help reduce crime and reassure the public. In some cases they will have direct lines to local police stations.
More than 200 councils, estates, housing associations and community groups are poised to introduce the security patrols.
They have applied for grants under the Government's [pounds sterling]13 million neighbourhood warden scheme launched in March. Individual grants of more than [pounds sterling]100,000 will be allocated in the autumn. The project has been initiated after Home Office research into 50 neighbourhood warden schemes already established - and paid for - by councils and community groups across England and Wales.
The new taskforce will also be responsible for clearing up graffiti and improving security in some areas. In other cases they will visit elderly and vulnerable residents and victims of crime and harassment, including intimidated witnesses.
A Home Office spokesman said: 'We want to support as many of these bids as possible. These wardens will provide a visible, semi-official presence which reassures local residents and hopefully reduces the fear and risk of crime.'
He added: 'They are not intended to be a substitute for the police. Their role is crime prevention, in the form of community patrols, and to report suspicious activity to the police.
'They don't have formal police training but we would expect them to have a close working relationship with the police. We would also expect organisations administering the schemes to have their own vetting procedures.' Yesterday the policy was attacked as 'policing on the cheap' by the Police Federation amid rising public frustration over the falling number of beat officers. Questions were also raised over the vetting of recruits who have so far included retired delivery drivers, ex-Armed Forces personnel, unemployed factory workers and a former postman.
The Home Office admitted it had no guidelines on vetting criteria for warden recruits, but expected local councils and community groups to set their own standards.
Critics fear this could leave the schemes open to abuse and infiltration by vigilante groups like those seen on the Paulsgrove estate in Portsmouth last week, when residents led violent protests against paedophiles living in the area. There is also concern that untrained staff could be exposed to assault if they attempt to intervene in disputes between drunken yobs, for example, and that the schemes could be taken over by local do-gooders with an axe to grind.
Councils which have applied for funding for neighbourhood warden schemes represent inner-city areas and rural communities.
Mullion, a fishing village on the west side of the Lizard peninsula in Cornwall, has not had a beat officer for many years and wants [pounds sterling]160,000 in funds. Its 2,300 residents have been shocked that reports of criminal damage have trebled in three years.
So far this year at least 12 vehicles have been damaged, windows have been broken at the youth club, flower tubs knocked over and broken, and damage caused to a menu board outside a hotel.
KERRIER District Council now wants two part-time wardens to patrol its twisting lanes of stone cottages.
The wardens will be trained by police, wear a uniform and be paid a salary. They will also be equipped with mobile phones and radios.
Chairman of the parish council Sue Ormond said: 'Unfortunately we do have vandalism and antisocial behaviour. There is underage drinking, drugs are involved and they are wrecking the park. …