CHESHIRE'S police chief could spark a political storm by encouraging parish councils to cough up extra cash to beef up security in their communities.
Peter Fahy, chief constable of Cheshire Constabulary, wants parish councils and community groups to pay for extra police-trained community support officers (CSOs) to protect their areas against low-level crime.
Police forces across the land, including Cheshire, have already received Home Office funding to employ CSOs - uniformed officers with limited powers of detention and able to issue fixed penalty tickets for some minor offences - to patrol trouble-hit communities.
Cheshire Constabulary received cash to employ six CSOs during 2002-3 and £130,000 to employ 15 CSOs in 2003-4.
However, Mr Fahy wants community leaders to take up the challenge and pay their wages of up to £20,000 from their annual budget.
The move looks likely to spark a double taxation debate. Home Off ice chiefs say parish councils can pay towards the scheme but CSOs will be employees of their relevant police force.
CSOs were introduced by the Government in the Police Reform Act 2002. They do not have the same powers as police off icers, but their aim is to increase the visible police presence on the streets, reassuring the public and freeing up the time of regular officers for tasks requiring higher levels of qualif ications, power and skill.
Mr Fahy's mission was mooted during the July meeting of Tarporley Parish Council.
During a debate with Chief Insp Paul McHugh, of Cheshire Constabulary's Congleton and Vale Royal division, councillors told how a group of troublesome teenagers continue to cause havoc in the village and pleaded with officers to go back on the beat.
However, officers said paltry resources prevented them from returning to the streets and urged everyone to pull together to crack crime.
Chief Insp McHugh said their problems could be solved if they invested in a CSO for Tarporley.
He said Mr Fahy was interested in asking parish councils to pay the wages of a CSO, which start from about £14,000.
He told councillors: 'I don't think the visible presence of police off icers is an answer in itself.
'There are options, such as buying yourself a Community Support Officer. You have the money - you would then have a presence.
'The chief wants local part-nerships to fund the CSO programme.'
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CSOs, who are kitted out in a special uniform, can issue fixed penalty tickets for minor anti-social behaviour, confiscate alcohol being consumed in designated public places, confiscate tobacco from young people, enter and search premises to save life or prevent serious damage, carry out road checks in the company of a constable and use reasonable force to detain a person for up to 30 minutes pending the arrival of a constable.
CSOs carry the same radios as police officers and are able to contact officers and control rooms to report crime as it happens.
Supt Nick Ingram, divisional commander for Chester & Ellesmere Port, said Mr Fahy wants to sell the idea of community-funded CSOs to parish councils.
'I know the idea has been raised - the chief is thinking about it,' he said.
Asked whether the idea is double taxation for parishes, Supt Ingram said: 'I don't think so.
'CSOs offer a different purpose. They have not got the same powers as police off icers, they enhance community safety.
'It's being realistic about what the police service can provide. It's a working relationship - it's common sense.'
Brenda Cowling, spokesman for Cheshire Constabulary, said: 'Following a change in the law, parish councils can now raise the money themselves through their precept for community safety initiatives, including paying the wages of a community safety off icer, who would be dedicated to a particular parish.
'Community support off icers would probably be attached to a community action team and would be less likely to be drawn away from their area to take part in a major operation.'
Asked about double taxation, Mrs Cowling replied: 'The policing level that parishes currently receive would not be reduced.
'However, it is not feasible to provide a dedicated police off icer to particular areas under the current level of finance the constabulary has.
'If any parish councils are interested in paying for their own community support officer, they can approach us now.'
The executive of the Cheshire Association of Town and Parish Councils is expected to comment on the plan in September.
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