Police drafted in to protect parks

Attempts to crack down on anti-social behaviour in parks are leading more local authorities across the UK to deploy dedicated police, but green-space experts are divided on the benefits.

Maidstone joins LB Hammersmith & Fulham in policing parks - photo: LBHF
Maidstone joins LB Hammersmith & Fulham in policing parks - photo: LBHF

The latest deployment is in Maidstone, where the need to tackle problems of anti-social behaviour and drug use has led to the introduction of police in the borough's parks this summer.

Five dedicated staff have been employed to monitor parks in four different areas of Maidstone as part of the scheme, called Operation Othello.

Sergeant Ian Jones, who is in charge of the operation, said: "The scheme will send an important message of high-visibility policing to both those who use the parks for enjoyment and the communities surrounding them."

Earlier this month Royal Parks operational command unit police commander Derek Pollock told HW (21 August) how a uniformed presence can help allay people's fears of crime, as well as tackling the behaviour itself.

Parks Agency consultant Stewart Harding agrees that employing dedicated police in parks could prove to be a positive step in some communities. "Having these resources on the ground can be good because it's a zero-tolerance approach; with a park that is rundown, you get deep-seated anti-social behaviour rooted in the space."

He added: "I think you need the support of the police even if you have got a park keeper in there. The park keeper's job description is massive and then they have to deal with yobs and criminals - so there really is a role for police."

However, parks consultant Alan Barber said: "Police uniforms can signal an expectation of trouble, which is a bit off-putting for park users. There is an odd business in some London boroughs where park ranger services have been changed to parks police.

"London boroughs can give their parks patrols similar powers but most places cannot - and the miscreants know this," Barber added.

"Overall, I much prefer ranger services - if they are well run. The important thing is that the parks must be well kept. Poorly maintained and poorly featured parks attract trouble and no police force or park patrol will cure the problem," Barber commented.

Operation Othello includes the use of a mobile police station, which is manned by three officers. In addition, there will be two officers carrying out patrol duties used in various locations to reduce anti-social behaviour and linked crime.

A parks constabulary was introduced across the London Borough of Hammersmith & Fulham's 54 green spaces in 2001 and inspector Stan Davies said it had reduced crime and anti-social behaviour by 20 per cent since then.

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