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Police agree volunteer ‘traffic wardens’ for East Cambs but not anytime soon

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A police chief advised East Cambridgeshire District Council that it is legal to recruit volunteers as unpaid ‘traffic wardens’ but finding the time to vet and train them is a major obstacle.

Supt James Sutherland spoke of the difficulties and challenges when he provided an update to the council on a scheme put forward more than a year ago to tackle illegal parking in Ely and East Cambridgeshire.

The district council is moving towards being the last local authority in the country to decline the option of civil parking enforcement.

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Supt James Sutherland spoke to East Cambs councillors about a “potential solution to ameliorate some of the parking issues we have in Ely”.

This is when, as is now happening in Fenland, South Cambridgeshire and Huntingdonshire, parking enforcement ceases to be a policing issue and becomes controlled by local councils.

In Ely, the issue has been exacerbated by the district council’s refusal to countenance paid parking (often regarded as a precursor to civil parking enforcement) although Fenland, for instance, is moving in that direction with continuation of free parking.

East Cambridgeshire believes, as its leader Anna Bailey said last year, it should not need civil parking enforcement to bring about changes. But she remains angry with those who fail to park properly.

“I am heartily sick of this anti-social, illegal, selfish behaviour and am working hard to get a long-term solution to the issue in place,” she said.  

Supt James Sutherland spoke to East Cambs councillors about a “potential solution to ameliorate some of the parking issues we have in Ely”.

“I do not want to use the sledgehammer of Civil Parking Enforcement (CPE) to crack a nut, so we are working with Cambridgeshire Constabulary on a solution that has not yet been implemented anywhere else in the country to tackle this issue once and for all. 

“We are aware of the hotspots around the district, and we want to create a solution which is effective, cost effective and sustainable”. 

Supt Sutherland offered little prospect of volunteers being around anytime soon to resolve parking enforcement, but he did explain to councillors that police now believed it was legally possible to use volunteers.

He said there was no legal hurdle to using volunteers (he had checked) and what was proposed is for Cambridgeshire police to create the role of road safety officer.

Such volunteers would have legal powers to uphold some aspects of the law.

Supt James Sutherland spoke to East Cambs councillors about a “potential solution to ameliorate some of the parking issues we have in Ely”.

The volunteer scheme would model itself on speed watch and take inspiration from the special constabulary.

“It would be a much bigger evolution of volunteers that we have ever had in Cambridgeshire,” he said.

Supt Sutherland said the chief constable had a small list of powers he cannot give to volunteers, and these included the power of arrest or search.

But there were many things he could do and that included road safety volunteers.

Recent legislation had enabled such powers to be given to volunteer groups although in the case of what was being proposed for Ely, he could find few if any precedents.

“I have not found anyone using it in relation to parking since parking in most areas not a police issue,” he said.

Supt Sutherland said he had sourced uniforms and looked at a new generation of handheld equipment that would capture illegal parking on camera.

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Supt James Sutherland spoke to East Cambs councillors about a “potential solution to ameliorate some of the parking issues we have in Ely”.

It would mean volunteers would not have to stop or confront a motorist.

However, he warned that each piece of equipment could cost up to £10,000 but it would obtain evidence “as close to fool proof in securing prosecutions as you can get”.

Supt Sutherland said volunteers would wear uniforms, appropriate headwear, have access to body armour and to police airwaves.

But he insisted: “I do not envisage this being a particularly confrontational role.”

Volunteers would also access police vehicles – but with limited usage – and would be barred from equipment such as incapacitate spray.

Various experts and agencies would deliver training (possibly six weekends plus online) and only have powers specified by the chief constable.

Supt James Sutherland spoke to East Cambs councillors about a “potential solution to ameliorate some of the parking issues we have in Ely”.

This would include parking, speeding and “potentially stuff around use of mobile phones and seatbelts where it doesn’t involve pulled over vehicles”.

However, he said the main blocker now to introducing of volunteers is the level of vetting required, which is the same as for police recruits.

Supt Sutherland said the country was recruiting 25,000 new police officers and this would not be complete until next Spring. Each applicant needed vetting and for a “non-problematic” candidate this could take three months but longer for others.

Currently he was on secondment to the Home Office to help with this and with hundreds of thousands of applications, it was a matter of these taking priority for vetting.

“Vetting is a hot topic and police volunteers are at the end of a very long queue and stay the bottom of the queue since anyone else comes in on top,” he said.

Practically speaking it could be months before police volunteers could be vetted “and this is not an idea position to be in”.

Supt Sutherland envisaged East Cambs would need up to six volunteers to be viable.

“I think the people right for this post is small,” he said.

Police would look for professional, trustworthy individual who are “motivated, can deal with the legal stuff and also be extremely sensitive”.

Cllr Simon Harries suggested there were so many variables now, he wondered why the council had invited Supt Sutherland to the meeting.

 

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