Complaints of ‘aggressive’ park officers, fines and outsource ‘profiteering’ at council meeting
People have complained about the alleged behaviour of private enforcement officers in parts of Pendle, who hand out fixed penalty notices for litter and dog-control offences in recreation areas controlled by special orders.
Contract enforcement officers have been aggressive, reduced people to tears and worn face masks while following lone women, it was alleged at Pendle Council’s latest Policy & Resources Committee meeting.
A number of people spoke against the current system, using services through a private company called District Enforcement.
In Pendle, District Enforcement officers are managing breaches of local Public Space Protection Orders, which are local legal orders control behaviour in parks, playgrounds and other specific public spaces and which were recently updated by the borough council.
However, claims about enforcement officers’ alleged behaviour were disputed by some other speakers. It was local residents caught littering or failing to keep their dogs on leads who were aggressive, some speakers said.
Peter Constant claimed PSPO signs as ‘intentionally small’ and the contractors were commercially-driven to hand out fines. He said: “I was pulled over for not having my dog on a lead and allegedly not picking up dog dirt.”
Another pubic speaker was Peter Smith from the Pick Up For Pendle group.
He said: “We are against further cuts in the war on litter. We need to invest. We need to work together with enforcement, refuse collection and volunteer sectors for better efficiency. Using this problem as a political issue is wrong.
“Pick Up For Pendle has suggested areas for surveillance and would like to see cameras at strategic sites. Education and appealing to people’s good nature is important but many of these people have been through education and should know better. Enforcement is all some people understand, unfortunately.”
Sue Fairweather said: “Since the pandemic lockdowns, behaviour has got worse. Litter is blighting the whole area.
“When I was picking up litter with some other volunteers, we were watched by three young guys in a car. One came over and asked what we were doing. I told him and he said ‘well done’. Then he got back to his mates to tell them.
“Their uniforms were pristine. They were just sitting there, looking for easy targets, for cigarettes. But for residents, drinks cans and noisy cars are the issues. We need some kind of enforcement but not this.”
Conservative Coun Jennifer Purcell, who is not on the Policy & Resources Committee, described complaints at Victory Park in Barnoldswick.
She said: “I am being inundated with complaints about officers using nasty approaches. One woman was followed by an enforcement officer wearing a black face mask. She felt threatened. A woman cannot trust someone who is covering their face. She went home and called me. She said she’d never visit the park again. She got a fixed penalty notice.”
She added: “Pendle Council needs to look into who it employs. These residents feel like criminals. One woman had a panic attack. Dog walkers are being penalised. The council needs to find another company or take-over this work.”
However, Conservative Coun Nadeem Ahmed, who is the committee chairman and also the political leader of Pendle Council, said the committee would make a decision on enforcement contract in May. For now, the committee update on PSPOs was for information only.
But he added: “My view is that we need education and enforcement. If any enforcement officer has behaved inappropriately, we won’t stand for that. This will be part of the review and will be considered.”
He also challenged suggestions that the borough council or individual councillors were motivated by profits from enforcement.
He said: “I totally disagree. I don’t know anybody who has said this (at the council). I would also challenge anybody to say that I have said any such thing?”
Lib-Dem Coun David Whipp said the number of public complaints should make Pendle Council ‘pause for thought’.
“We have got more littering even though we’ve got enforcement officers giving out thousands of notices. Three men sitting in a car, waiting. That’s how they operate. They trick people into giving their names and address. saying they ‘just want to give them a warning’.
“I know of one woman who fell to the ground in tears, as two men were trying to get her name and address.
“If Pendle Borough Council thinks this is acceptable, we should not be in public office.”
Labour Coun Mohammed Iqbal said the council’s name was being ‘tarnished’ with the District Enforcement arrangement. He asked how money from the enforcement and fixed penalty system was divided between District Enforcement and Pendle Borough Council.
Philip Mousdale, the council’s corporate director, said District Enforcement took all money linked to operational costs, including officers and back-room operations, then the remainder was split 50/50 between it and the council.
However, Conservative Coun Sarah Cockburn Price said she had looked into a number of appeals by residents and watched various video recordings, with permission, filmed on enforcement officers’ body-cameras.
She said: “A lot of the videos I saw involved a lot of swearing from people who have been stopped. There have been stories of people being bullied or thundered at, but I have not seen anything like that. In fact, I have seen officers explaining payment terms and sounding rather pathetic. Not aggressive. The truth seems to the other way round.”
However, a series of fixed penalty notices had been rescinded for people with disabilities and under-age people.
She said before the current arrangement, Pendle Council officers did the job but focused on fly-tipping. Now, enforcement work was being done across both issues with District Enforcement, which had all the experience, technology and backroom support needed.
Conservative Coun David Cockburn-Price said the District Enforcement review in May would highlight positives and any negatives with the activity.