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Inquiry into community policing in Scotland

The UNISON Scotland Submission
To the Scottish Parliament's Justice Committee
On their call for Written Evidence on their inquiry into community policing in Scotland

May 2008


UNISON Scotland welcomes the opportunity to respond to the call for written evidence from the Scottish Parliament's Justice Committee regarding the above inquiry. UNISON Scotland believes it is important for any inquiry into community policing in Scotland looks at the roles of community wardens and other civilian staff.

Therefore, UNISON Scotland's response will focus mainly on the role of community wardens and the potential for further civilian roles in assisting the policing of communities.


Community wardens were introduced in Scotland progressively from around 2003. Their role was to act as a deterrent to antisocial behaviour and provide reassurance to those whose lives were affected by crime, the fear of crime and antisocial behaviour. Whilst the majority of wardens do not have enforcement powers, they liaise closely with the police and local councils, acting as the ‘eyes and ears' of the communities they serve.

Benefits of Community Wardens

Fergus Ewing MSP, Minister for Community Safety, recently praised Scotland's Community Wardens by saying that they are playing an "increasingly constructive" role in supporting safe, strong neighbourhoods.

In 2007 the then Scottish Executive commissioned research into the Community Warden schemes in Scotland. This culminated in two reports, ‘National Evaluation of Scotland's Community Wardens' and ‘The Impact of Local Antisocial Behaviour Strategies at the Neighbourhood Level' which both highlighted examples of good practice where community wardens have made a positive impact on the areas they serve.

Underpinning much of the research was the idea of the wardens as the "eyes and ears" of the community: identifying community concerns and then either dealing with these or liaising with the appropriate agencies, be these the police fire and rescue or local authority departments.

A key component of successful warden schemes is the ability of the wardens to engage with their local community and to earn their trust and respect. A number of community initiatives have achieved this including in Angus where wardens, while attending a resident's association, were made aware of problems of young people not being able to take part in organised leisure activities as their parents could not afford the costs. As a result the wardens identified a funding source enabling the young people to participate in these activities. Another example of good practice includes the wardens scheme in Ferguslie Park, Renfrewshire where wardens established and supported several projects including a junior wardens' board game to highlight issues of antisocial behaviour to younger members of the community.

In Dundee wardens have been successful in building both community and professional working relationships, to the extent that other service providers now use the wardens to engage with the local community. Agencies such as social work, which are sometimes viewed with suspicion by young people, have used the wardens to make introductions. Young people trust the wardens and feel less threatened or intimidated by a person introduced to them by the wardens.

The warden scheme in Dundee was also highlighted as evidence of good practice in information sharing between wardens and partner agencies including the police, noise wardens and antisocial behaviour teams.

The main benefit of the wardens, as perceived by the police in various case study areas, was their value in gathering intelligence. The role of the wardens as "professional witnesses" was also identified, with the wardens being able to monitor situations before the police arrived and take notes that could then be passed on and used as evidence in court.

Whilst high visibility in the community is a characteristic of all wardens' services, some schemes have developed innovative approaches to this. The Inverclyde service has attempted to develop a brand image for the wardens making use of slogans such as "You talk, we listen". The use of such slogans in the community increases visibility and promotes the wardens as a friendly and approachable local service, developing positive associations in the mind of the local community.

In addition to visibility, it is important for schemes to operate with a degree of flexibility, ensuring that wardens are visible in the right places at the right times. An example of this was the extension of patrol areas to include school premises during the holiday period as seen in South Lanarkshire and Dumfries where wardens monitored an exclusion zone around local schools throughout the holidays. In Clackmannanshire the HMI Education report praised the "Schools Out" initiative and its success in reducing the cost of vandalism, a reduction amounting to £11,000 during one summer holiday period.

Wardens in Dundee maintain high visibility in the local community by targeting some of their patrols on sensitive areas. Wardens are regularly present to escort older residents home when the local bingo hall closes, building relationships with the local community whilst providing reassurance and reducing fear of crime. The Vulnerable Adults Initiative in Perth and Kinross involves wardens visiting victims of crime and antisocial behaviour for a period of time following the incident to provide reassurance and reduce fear of crime.

An economic evaluation of the community warden schemes found that community wardens appeared to have been relatively effective in the case study neighbourhoods and were visible to the majority of residents. The impact of wardens was threefold. Firstly, their presence helped to reduce antisocial behaviour by deterring potential perpetrators, reporting incidents and acting as professional witnesses. Secondly, they acted as a conduit for community intelligence, including informing other agencies about complaints from residents or visible signs of antisocial behaviour such as vandalism and graffiti, enabling swift and appropriate action to be taken. Thirdly, they had a community development and reassurance role that increased residents' sense of empowerment and engagement with local agencies and thereby may lead to a reduction in antisocial behaviour in the longer term.

Increased Civilianisation

UNISON Scotland believes that, as with community warden schemes, there may be further scope for other initiatives to assist in the policing of communities which do not rely solely on the use of uniformed police officers.

Further consideration should also be given to the role of community support officers or their equivalent. For instance, Police Community Support Officers now constitute 6% of the total workforce in English police forces. The use of community wardens in Scottish local government has given a valuable insight into the positive role these staff can play in improving community safety, to complement not substitute for police officers.


UNISON Scotland welcomes the opportunity to contribute to this inquiry into community policing in Scotland. We have highlighted the varied roles carried out by community wardens and the benefits that they provide to the communities that they serve while also raising the potential for further scope for other initiatives to assist in the policing of communities which do not rely solely on the use of uniformed police officers.

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For Further Information Please Contact:

Matt Smith, Scottish Secretary
14, West Campbell Street,
Glasgow G2 6RX

Tel 0845 355 0845 Fax 0141 342 2835

e-mail matt.smith@unison.co.uk

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