Norfolk police are taking on a bank of “scene guards” to watch over crime scenes for £10 an hour. It is believed to be the first force in the country to take such a radical step, which critics say is policing on the cheap.
Labour said it was a sign of how far police forces were being stretched by government cuts.
Norfolk police say they believe it is the best way of getting value out of the resources they have. Those being recruited could be former police officers or people who have worked in the military.
Last year Norfolk eliminated its police community support officers, a decision that affected 150 people. The force said the money spent employing them had risen to the point where they cost almost the same as a fully trained police officer.
The more than £1m saved has been partly used for more police officers, who have wider powers. Some of the money saved will go to scene guards, who will be paid as and when they are required.
The advert for the role says duties will include “preserving the integrity of the crime/incident scene, detailing all persons entering/leaving the scene”, and “dealing with enquiries from the public and media”.
Applicants need a set of skills including “ability to maintain concentration for prolonged periods”, and it helps if those applying have “experience of working with confidential and sensitive information”, “experience of working in a police environment or similar”, “ability to problem-solve”, and “experience of dealing with confrontation”.
Pay is £10.01 per hour worked and applicants must be free to stand guard four times a year at least. The advert also said: “Hours of work are on an ad hoc basis in line with the spontaneous nature of the policing environment. This post is offered on a casual (zero hour) basis.”
The shadow policing minister, Louise Haigh, said: “This is just the latest consequence of the Tories’ cuts to community policing. Personnel on zero-hours contracts should not be asked to secure a crime scene in the aftermath of, for instance, a serious violent attack or a murder; they have neither the accountability nor the training of PCSOs. This is policing on the cheap.”
Norfolk police said they were changing how they work after a review, adding: “One aspect of a PCSO’s role was to attend scene seals. Our review work has shown that this is a duty which can be performed without a policing warrant.
“Scene guards will have zero-hours contracts and, when required, will assist at police cordons at certain low risk crime or incident scenes which need to have a visible police presence on a 24/7 basis whilst investigations are completed.”
The force said it had no plans to introduce casual workers on zero-hour contracts for any other roles.
The Norwich South MP, Clive Lewis, said: “Now we find that the role once performed by uniformed officers will be outsourced to a casualised civilian workforce on zero-hours contracts, a practice that should be banned rather than imported into the public sector.
“It raises serious questions about the reliability and integrity of police services that are the heart of keeping local people safe. Even worse, I fear this is just the first step with more privatisation and cuts on the way, and the status of policing weakened even further.”