17 April 2009
It's high time that Southwark's community wardens were given some teeth.
Ok, it's been billed as five new powers, but in reality it boils down to being able to request someone's name and address and being allowed to confiscate alcohol and cigarettes from young people and those drinking in public places. So more a case perhaps of a set of dentures, rather than a pair of gnashers that are really going to bite.
In reality, community wardens have always been caught between two stools - that of a fully trained police officer and that of the old estate caretakers. And this means that public support for wardens has been lukewarm at best. All of us would take more police on the streets any day of the week, while many hark back to ‘the good old days’, when caretakers knew exactly who was doing what and when - and didn't need permission to ask a young tearaway what his name was.
But the world has changed since then and, whilst there is still a decent argument for bringing the caretakers back, wardens can still play an active part in reassuring the public, and helping the police by being their eyes and ears when Met budgets just don't stretch (and never will in all likelihood) to blanket policing.
It can't be an easy job - nowadays there is a worrying possibility that confronting a gang of youths about underage drinking will get you more than just verbal abuse in return. And without the powers of the police, if wardens are met with silence or unhelpful culprits who refuse to give their names or hand over their booze and fags, then there's not an awful lot more they can do, except call the police - who will be too busy to attend such a minor incident.
Nevertheless, the 'five' new powers are a step in the right direction. For every ten offenders who tell wardens where they can stick it, there will be one who does hand over the alcohol in a public place, one who gives their name after acting antisocially or causing injury or distress, and a young person who hands over the alcohol and cigarettes they shouldn't be consuming. And that makes for a more enjoyable environment for all of us.
Couple this to the impressive statistics revealed by Southwark's warden boss, Chris McCracken, that the wardens made 13,350 intelligence reports last year and the case for keeping our wardens, and giving them powers to make them even more effective, becomes compelling.
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