Posted: 16.10.20 at 13:54 by Rory Poulter
Controversy over the possible introduction of private police patrols on the streets of Richmond has escalated with news that a second security firm is canvassing residents to sign up.
The company On The Beat, which uses ex-military personnel, hopes to launch across the borough, typically charging residents £35 a month, possibly falling to £25.
Last week our MP Sarah Olney spoke in the House of Commons of her "deep concern" about the prospect of the introduction of private police forces. And today (Friday, October 16) the leader of Richmond Council raised his objections.
At the same time, the police insist that they can provide the protection, safety and security required by residents in a borough that has one of the lowest crime rates in London.
The prospect of private police patrols first emerged following a spate of antisocial behaviour, including drinking and drug dealing around Richmond Green over the summer.
As a result, residents contacted the security company MyLocalBobby, which was set up by former Metropolitan police officers, to offer private patrols. As Richmond Nub News exclusively reported, the company began canvassing residents and putting leaflets through doors to assess whether there is sufficient demand to make it viable.
On The Beat, which is based in Barnes, posted a statement about the firm's plans on the social media platform Nextdoor, saying: "We are currently doing research/due diligence on starting a neighbourhood based ‘deter and respond’ patrolling service in Barnes. If there is enough demand, we would like to launch it in other areas of Richmond borough.
"We actually met today with Inspector Robinson and the Barnes/East Sheen lead Sergeant Chris Murphie to discuss our service and ensure clear communication and expectation management. The police are very clear they cannot endorse specific companies/any companies and we completely understand this. What is clear is that the police would love to offer better response times and presence but simply don’t have the resources and funding.
"However, offering a deterrent that is privately funded does offer residents a choice that has previously not been available. The choice we are offering is comparable to people being able to choose private education or private healthcare. Using private services does not mean existing services get less funding. Indeed, when operated correctly, their provision actually reduces demand for police resources and frees them up to deal with crime for all.
"Setting out clearly what we as a company do/don’t do is very important.
"What On The Beat does do is provide a very visible deterrent and response to issues before criminal activity takes place. We are focused on residents’ homes and streets/cars. A kind of pre-999 response. Think ‘someone is looking in my window/car – they haven’t committed a crime yet but I think they might do and I would like it checking up on’. In this instance a police response is not a high priority.
"Our service will operate 6pm-6am and uses small ‘beats’ to ensure the electric patrol vehicle, with video recording equipment, passes residents homes roughly every 45 minutes. This means if members want to call the Security Officer then response times are fast as we aren’t far away.
"It does rely on neighbourhood ‘buy-in’ and there are 2 hurdles required to establish a new beat. Each one needs 500-600 members per beat and 30% sign up from each street to make sure we can cover it. Cost is £35 per house per month and drops to £25 per month if 50% of a street become members.
"We are in negotiations with home insurance companies to obtain reduced rates for members through group purchasing power and we would aim to subsidise half the costs of patrolling in the medium term through reduced premiums.
"We realise this isn’t for everyone and some say the police should be properly funded to be able to provide the deterrent we are offering. In the absence of this funding, we hope you will consider our service."
Residents of Kew and Twickenham have expressed interest in the scheme.
Last week, the Richmond Park MP, Sarah Olney, told the House of Commons: “Crime, antisocial behaviour and other incidents requiring a police presence have shifted from our city centres to our suburbs.
“The feeling that the community is not being well served by the police has reached the point in parts of my constituency that some residents are canvassing support for a privately funded police force to patrol specific areas.
“I should like to take this opportunity to state publicly and clearly that I am completely opposed to any such initiative.
“Everybody has the right to safety and justice, regardless of their background or income, it should not be reserved specifically for those who can pay for it.
“I am deeply concerned about the implications of the interests of the customers of the private police force being enforced against those who haven’t paid for it.”
However, the Policing minister, Kit Malthhouse MP, suggested the government supports the idea of people being free to bring in private security.
He told MPs: “Now, I am a conservative and I believe in freedom of association and therefore I would not want to restrict the ability of private individuals to gather together to protect themselves in a particular way.”
Cllr Gareth Roberts criticised the prospect of private police patrols saying there is "no place for private policing firms" in Richmond.
The council leader said: "This is a very worrying development and the council has the strongest reservations not only about the rise of private policing in the borough but also about the way in which multiple firms are communicating with residents.
"We understand residents’ concern for their personal safety and the safety of their homes and communities, but many residents are now worried about vigilantism on our streets as these private security companies canvass for business in our borough.
“We are committed to keeping residents safe. We have a strong local police force and Park Guard to do this.
"In my view, and this is a view shared by many councillors, there is no place for private policing firms seeking to ply their trade in the borough and who are effectively exploiting the fears of residents which emerged following a very limited spell of anti-social behaviour over the summer months.”
Inspector Rebecca Robinson of Richmond Police said: "We are committed to keeping the residents of Richmond Safe and encourage residents to contact us with any concerns about crime in the area that they may have.
"I would like to reassure the community that as nights are drawing in, we have a dedicated police operation to tackle crimes that historically arise at this time of year. This includes anti-social behaviour and burglary.
"Police will be increasing their patrols of Richmond town centre and we will continue to work with our colleagues from the Local Authority and Safer Neighbourhood Board to deal with local concerns promptly and correctly.
"Finally, I highly encourage residents to join in the Community Conversations being hosted by Richmond Council on Zoom. Police and councillors will be present to answer questions from the public and can put you in touch with your local policing team.”
Richmond Green resident Olly Scott, who supports the idea of bringing in patrols from MyLocalBobby, posted a response pointing out some police services are already working with the company.
Alongside a picture of one of the firm's patrol officers with police officers, he wrote: "If the Met doesn’t work with or rate the private security firm why did its officers pose for photos with them?"