Accountability and Standards of the Port Police Forces

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History and organisation of Port Police forces

Independent police forces

The port police forces belong to a category of independent police forces that have origins in specific legislation, much of it from the nineteenth century. Other examples are the Hampstead Heath Constabulary, York Minister police, and the Cambridge University Constabulary. They all employ sworn “constables” who have in common certain powers and duties, but whose jurisdiction is tightly circumscribed. In contrast, members of Home Office police forces, sometimes known as territorial police forces, derive much of their powers from modern legislation - the Police Act 1964, the Police Act 1996 (in England and Wales), the Police (Scotland) Act 1967 or the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000. The Police Act 1996 outlined the areas of responsibility for the 43 territorial forces of England and Wales(found in Schedule 1 of the Act) and prescribed a range of matters such as appointment of a Chief Constable, jurisdiction and responsibilities.

Port police forces

Eight sea ports in England and Wales and two in Northern Ireland now have their own police force. These are (with manpower in parentheses):

Belfast (38) Liverpool (46)
Bristol (20) Larne (6)
Dover (47) Portland (10)
Falmouth (4) Teesport (13)
Felixstowe (27) Tilbury (13)

Further details are given in Annex A.

The number of ports with a dedicated police presence has declined over the last two decades. In 1977, when a large element of United Kingdom port capacity was still in public ownership under the British Transport Docks Board and the British Railways Board, over twenty-eight ports had a dedicated police presence amounting to over 1100 officers. These are shown in Annex B from which it can be seen that the major change has been for the public sector ports staffed by the British Transport Police, a national police force now dedicated to policing the railways.

Today's port police forces vary in size from nearly 50 officers at Dover and Liverpool to 4 at Falmouth. Collectively, however, these ports account for over 40 per cent of the UK's non-oil traffic, which means their police are in contact with and potentially guardians of millions of pounds worth of traded goods every year.

Each force is led by a chief officer who is able to participate in the work of the Port Police Chief Officers Association (PPCOA) which meets regularly to discuss matters of common interest. Chief Officers or members of their forces may also cover the role of Port Facility Security Officer as provided for by International Ship and Port Security Code 2004 (ISPS). Most forces include some civilian staff and they may also be responsible for security personnel within the port.

Powers of constables

Port police powers are not wholly equivalent to those of the modern “police officer”. Port police forces consist of constables sworn in by magistrates on the nomination of the port. A constable is a common law term, and all police officers, including Home Office police officers, are constables. Home Office police officers may, however, have additional statutory powers not held by port police officers under legislation that is applicable only to them.

Unlike Home Office police, port police constables are appointed under legislation that incorporates Section 79 of the Harbours Docks and Piers Clauses Act 1847 (HDPCA), or a similar provision into other legislation specific to a particular port. The HDPCA legislation, which is reproduced at Annex C provides the power for any two Justices to appoint any persons nominated by the statutory undertakers (the port authority) to be “special constables” within the limits of the harbour, dock or pier and the premises of the undertakers and within one mile beyond (however this limit can vary depending on the local act). The HDPCA states that such constables “shall have the same powers, protections and privileges and be subject to the same liabilities as constables have or are subject to by the laws of the realm.” Section 80 of the HDPCA also provides a power for any two Justices to dismiss any constable appointed under Section 79. At Dover, the power for Justices to dismiss constables under section 80 (HDPCA) has been adapted so that the dismissal from the office of Constable is automatic if the Harbour Board, as a statutory undertaker, dismisses a constable from its employment.

There are two important points of clarification of the term "constable":

In the most general context a "constable" is usually taken to refer to the lowest rank in the police service. However the purposes of legislation, legal powers and jurisdiction "constable" includes all officers of any rank.

Some confusion can also be caused by the fact that the HDPCA refers to ‘special constables’. This term is also used of the special constables of Home Office police forces who are part-time and unpaid volunteers coming under the direction and control of the chief constable of the force concerned.

C2: Port police forces are distinct from Home Office forces. They range in size from 4 to around 50 personnel and differ in the precise functions they undertake. Sworn constables are nevertheless empowered to deal with broadly the same types of issues as Home Office police but restricted with respect to location.

For related documents, pages and internet links, see the column on the right.

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