Community wardens: policing on the cheap

FRFI 175 October / November 2003

The defence of ruling class interests by bourgeois cops is rapidly being supplemented by an underpaid, minimally trained force of community and street wardens.

On 11 June 2003 David Blunkett announced steps to further ‘decentralise’ the police. This will involve moving responsibility for the maintenance of social order ‘into the community’ and the further development of the ‘two tier’ system of law enforcement, employing Community Wardens to deal with ‘incivilities’, and police for more serious crimes. There are currently 662 wardens operating in Britain and the north of Ireland, some of whom have as little as one week’s training.

Despite its rhetoric about facilitating ‘more positive dialogues’ between the police and local residents, the Clifton Report, released in 2002, makes clear that the actual role of wardens is to control young working class people. They would move young people on from playing football in the street, track down young people riding quad bikes, and report vandalism of school buildings. The report concludes the warden would be a ‘reliable middle man’, or woman, for the police. In Middlesbrough, where young people’s anger against the state has been expressed in attacks on fire engines, community wardens have been employed as a kind of soft-touch crowd control, their local knowledge of where young people live being used to curb dissent.

Meanwhile, Swindon local authorities have been employing people as young as ten to act as ‘Junior Wardens’. In exchange for their assistance as the ‘eyes and ears’ of the police, these young people are given ‘rewards’ such as free tickets to football matches and free use of public transport. It is a direct attempt to co-opt young people from the most exploited sections of society.

In many areas of Britain, wardens are being supplemented by a third tier of the policing system, Community Support Officers. These fulfil a role somewhere between police and community wardens. They have as little as five weeks’ training and are therefore less expensive than the police, but have more powers than community wardens: they can give on-the-spot fines for minor offences, and confiscate alcohol from people under eighteen and cigarettes from people under sixteen. Social control on the cheap is here to stay.
Tom Bruce

 

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