In theory, a PSPO is a power used by councils, on the basis that they are democratically elected institutions. Before passing the PSPO, the council must consult the local police force, in order to check that they are able to enforce it.
The reality, however, is that police forces are becoming actively involved in the writing of these laws.
In Cheshire West and Chester, a PSPO (which included a ban on rough sleeping, begging, and busking outside of designated pitches) was proposed in a report by a local chief inspector.
Police influence is the reason for the frequent appearance of a dispersal condition in council PSPOs. Dispersal appears to be the police’s favourite law-enforcing mechanism, which they like to have as broad as possible, and as easy as possible to use.
(The police already have a dispersal power of their own to use, but this comes with certain formal conditions and restrictions, and they prefer to have a completely free hand.)
The police role in asking for dispersal PSPOs was made clear when the police head of Gloucester’s City Safe company, which provides City Protection Officers for the city, complained that the council had refused to include dispersal conditions in the draft PSPO. The report in the local news said:
He said he was “disappointed” that powers to disperse offenders were not part of the PSPO. “I don’t like the enforceable side of it, I like the education side of it, but it would have been a good tool to have in your back pocket.”
Meanwhile, the Nottingham City Council consultation on a draft PSPO – which will include bans on unregulated busking and on leafleting – appears to be conducted partly by the Nottingham police force. (The consultation page says that representations on the proposed PSPO can be emailed to the anti-social behaviour team at Nottingham police).
Giving law-making powers to councils is one thing, since in theory they are subject to democratic pressure and review. But the increasing role of police forces in making coercive law is extremely worrying indeed.
Once laws become designed around anything that would make the police’s life easier, both the public interest and individual liberties will be ridden over roughshod, as the police accumulate powers like sweets to keep in handy in their back pockets.