YORK'S Street Rangers have been granted new powers by police. STEPHEN LEWIS joined them on patrol to find out more

A MAN is slumped in the closed doorway of the Spurriergate Centre. He looks semi-conscious at best; his head lolling, his eyes unfocussed. There's blood on his hands.

PC Ben Pepper is kneeling on the flagstones in front of him, talking to him in a low, soothing voice. He uses the man's name a lot. "How are you, XXXX? Are you still with us? We're trying to help you."

The man, it transpires, isn't drunk or on drugs, but has collapsed for medical reasons. An ambulance has been called. PC Pepper is staying with him until it arrives.

There's a wonderful gentleness to the way he talks to the man, and occasionally rests a hand on his arm, for support and just to let him know someone is there.

Occasionally, PC Pepper breaks off to speak to the police control room on his radio. Yes, he says, an ambulance is on the way. "ETA is about four minutes." A voice at the other end clearly asks him if he can manage the situation. "Yeah," he says. "I've got the Street Rangers with me."

Two of York's ten-strong force of Street Rangers have joined him, in fact. Darren Erwin, a 45-year-old Army veteran with 23 years as an infantry corporal behind him, is standing at the corner of Spurriergate and Low Ousegate, waiting to guide the ambulance in. He's already removed the bollards blocking the entrance to Spurriergate. James Stephenson, a 24-year-old who joined the Rangers a year ago after doing a degree in policing studies at Liverpool John Moores University, is kneeling beside PC Pepper, helping to look after the man in the doorway. He rests a hand on his arm. And while PC Pepper is on the police radio, he keeps up the gentle flow of soothing words. "Are you all right, XXXX? The ambulance is on its way..."

The ambulance quickly arrives. Darren guides it up Spurriergate, and the man is gently but briskly loaded onto a stretcher and into the back. Paramedics ask a few questions, and then the ambulance is gone. The release of tension is palpable.

PC Pepper stretches his arms to ease them. "These guys are excellent," he says, gesturing to Darren and James. "We deal with the Rangers a lot, when tackling things like low-level antisocial behaviour. They're a real bonus for the city."

The Rangers have been in the news, recently, because they have just been granted extra powers by North Yorkshire Chief Constable Lisa Winward.

First introduced in York not quite three years ago, they are employed by the York BID (Business Improvement District) to be a high profile presence in the city centre: deterring criminals, helping police with things like shop-lifting and antisocial behaviour, liaising with businesses and the BID's own street cleaning team to ensure litter is picked up and the streets kept clean, and giving directions to visitors.

York Press:

Street Rangers on patrol: (l-r) Darren Erwin, Jack Milner and James Stephenson

Until recently, however, they had only the same powers as any other citizen.

That all changed last month, when the chief constable granted them extra powers under the Community Safety Accreditation Scheme (CSAS). This was introduced by the Government in 2002 under the Police Reform Act, and enables police forces to delegate extra powers to those accredited under the scheme.

Eight of the ten York Street Rangers have been accredited so far. Their new powers include:

- the right to require someone to give their name and address if they have reason to believe they are acting in an antisocial manner, or if there has been a traffic accident, an assault or a case of criminal damage

- the right to stop cyclists riding illegally on a footpath or pavement, or in a pedestrian zone

- the right to control traffic

These powers are still very limited, compared to the powers of a police officer - there is no power of arrest, for example, and Rangers cannot stop and search. But it is amazing the difference they make, says Carl Nickson, the managing director of York-based security company Eboracum UK Ltd, which employs the Rangers on behalf of the BID.

They have already been putting the powers to good use, says Carl, 32, who set up Eboracum in 2011, after working as a special constable. They've been able to help police stop and control traffic following a road accident; take the name and address of suspected thieves - and the name and address of someone seen urinating in public.

And what if someone refuses to give their name and address? That's a criminal offence, and the person refusing to give their details can be prosecuted, says Carl.

York Press:

Carl Nickson

The fact that all the Street Rangers carry body-worn cameras makes it hard for anyone who is stopped by a Ranger to dispute what happened. "If we speak to someone, it is recorded. If they drive off (without giving their details) we have proof of what happened," says Darren.

Some might be a little worried that a group of people who are essentially private security operatives have quasi-police powers and walk around wearing stab vests and body-worn cameras.

They needn't be, stresses Carl.

His men are not glorified bouncers in blue vests, he says. To get their new powers, they have all been fully vetted by the police. And they also undergo a rigorous training programme, both before they start work and while they're on the job (see panel).

But they're not pretending to be police officers, either. Their vets and their kit looks quite different, for a start. "We're not a private police force," Carl stresses. "We're just there to be a visible presence on the street." The new powers mean they can co-operate better with the police. But the CSAS accreditation - which has to be renewed by the chief constable every year - also makes them much more accountable. "People have nothing to worry about," he says.

Superintendent Lindsey Robson, the police commander for York and Selby, agrees.

"The powers they have been given are really focussed on the issues we have been experiencing in the city centre," she says.

"Tackling antisocial behaviour benefits everyone and improves our communities greatly. It makes sense to take all the steps we can to reduce it.

"(But) this is not about policing on the cheap, or about private security. It is about enhancing something we already had."

York Press:

York Police commander Supt Lindsey Robson

The powers granted to the Rangers have been available for police to delegate since 2002, she points out - they just haven't been used in York in this way before. "They are only granted if the chief constable is satisfied that they will be used appropriately and proportionality. York is already a very safe place, and by granting Street Rangers selected powers we can keep the city centre every year even safer."

So how do people react to the Rangers? During the course of a short patrol around York city centre with Darren Erwin and James Stephenson, it quickly becomes clear they are a familiar and trusted sight.

Several people stop and ask the Rangers for directions. "Say, are you the people who have all the answers?", asks one American visitor, jocularly.

A little boy asks Darren for directions to Starbucks. Darren kneels down next to him, pointing up Coney Street. "All the way up there, on the right," he says with a grin. "The big building with Starbucks on it..."

One shopkeeper pops out with cold cans of fizzy drinks for the Rangers - it's a hot day, especially in those stab vests. Others stop the Rangers to point out where litter hasn't been cleared up properly. Darren photographs the offending items, and sends the pictures to the BID's street cleaning team, with instructions.

It is also very noticeable how many cyclists suddenly jump off their bikes - one with a particularly sheepish expression - when the Rangers approach. If they don't, Darren says, a few quiet words are usually enough to make them dismount. Cyclists riding though busy pedestrians streets is one of the main things retailers complain about, he points out - and the Rangers are a very effective deterrent.

Then there are the mores serious incidents - such as that man who collapsed in the doorway of the Spurriergate Centre. The trust between PC Pepper and the two Rangers is obvious. This is a partnership that works.

Afterwards, when the ambulance and the police officer have gone, there are still a few splatters of blood on the pavement in front of the doorway. "We'll get a cleaning team to clean that up," Darren says. Now that's a power the police don't have...


York Street Rangers undergo a full programme of training, both before they start work and on-the-job.

The training includes:

  • Conflict Management
  • Advanced use of force/safety training
  • Risk assessment
  • Customer service
  • First Aid
  • Data Protection and use of body worn CCTV camera
  • Dementia Awareness
  • Safe talk suicide awareness
  • Rescue boat river safety training