1) Policing The Royal Parks
When John Nash led the creation of Regent’s Park in the early 1800s the control of security was one of the functions assigned to the Crown Estate Paving Commission, created by Act of Parliament in 1824. This was before the organisation of the first London police force by Robert Peel in 1829.
Policing in the Royal Parks in its modern form dates from 1872 when the Parks Regulation Act created a force of Royal Park Keepers with the powers of police constables within the Parks. In 1974, the Parks Regulation (Amendment) Act was passed, and the Royal Park Keepers became the Royal Parks Constabulary (RPC). Following a review in 2003, on 1 April 2004 the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) took responsibility for policing the Royal Parks.
The Parks are policed by the Royal Parks Operational Command Unit (OCU) of the Metropolitan Police, based at the Old Police House in Hyde Park. The early regulations were defined in “Parks Regulation Acts 1872–1926” and were significantly updated in the Royal Parks and Other Open Spaces Regulations 1997.
Since then, there have been at least 7 amendments, the most recent in September 2020 when the 20mph speed limit was introduced. All Police in the Royal Parks must be fully acquainted with these complex regulations, some of which give them more freedom to act than is the case under national law.
In 2020, there were about 80 full time police in the Royal Parks Police. In 1997 the full complement was 157 although the Hubbard report on the staffing and organisation of the Royal Parks recommended that this be reduced to 143.
There used to be Park Wardens, but these were abolished in 2004. Royal Parks Managers and their staff have no power to enforce park regulations. ONLY the police have the power to do so.
The Royal Parks police provides a lot of coverage for ceremonial events such as Changing of the Guard (every day for several weeks in the summer), Gun Salutes, Guard of honour etc
2) Regent’s Park & Primrose Hill Police in the 1990’s
It is hard to believe that in the 1990s there was a Police station in Regent’s Park staffed with up to 27 policemen and women. In 1998 there were 3 sergeants, 20 constables, 2 part time and 2 probationers. They worked in 4 shifts of 5 constables in each shift. Their duties included not just working in the park as they were often called to assist with ceremonial duties and crowd control in the Marble Arch and Buckingham Palace areas.
The police station was on the inner circle next to the Royal Park’s office, on the site now occupied by the Allotment garden. By the late 1990s it became apparent that this building was subsiding due to leaks from a deeply sited Victorian drain that had been washing away the foundations for many years. It became evident when a large hole appeared near the Store Yard. In 2002 there was a plan to rebuild it but that was abandoned when the Mayor decided to demolish many London police stations in 2005.
Back in 1972 there were mounted police based in stables next to the police station. There were also 6 motorcycle police based at the stables, but these were cut to 4 in 1996 and tasked with covering all London Royal Parks. The mounted police were moved to Hyde Park in 1996 even though the stables had just been expensively renovated!
Back In 1996, a typical number of reported crimes in Regent’s Park & Primrose Hill over a 3 month period was 50; by 1998 this had risen to about 80 and by 2002 had risen further with vehicle crime rising from 12 to 18 offences. By comparison, in a 3 month period of 2020 there were 185 crimes reported (but most of these were mobile phone theft- not much of a problem in 1996).
3) Policing in Regent’s Park & Primrose Hill in 2020
Each Royal Park has one DPO (Dedicated Police Officer) and the DPO’s report to two Sergeants. They are based at the Old Police House and visit all the Parks on a regular basis. In Regent’s Park & Primrose Hill the current DPO (2020) is William (Will) Richards. Will is permanently based in the Park for full day shifts. Will is supported by daily visits of teams from the Old Police House varying from 2 to 6 officers depending on the local situation. Officers work on a 3-shift rota, early, mid, and late. The Park police hand over to the local Borough Police after 2300hrs and start again at 0700hrs. During the night, Camden officers police Primrose Hill and part of Regent’s Park, and Westminster police the rest of Regent’s Park.
Although rare, serious crime does happen occasionally in Regent’s Park & Primrose Hill. Each report must be evaluated by the Police and investigated to establish lines of enquiry. For much of the time officers are directed to specific crime prevention tasks and patrols as opposed to enforcement of Park Regulations. Officers can have several investigations to manage and the most serious offences get passed to detectives at the local Command Unit.
Police only issue £60 penalty notices for dog fouling, littering and unauthorised cycling on footpaths. They normally give a warning for a first offence and, if a second offence is committed, a Court summons. But a Court summons can be used for a first offence depending on attitude, level of offence and other factors. On the spot cash payment fines are not issued.
During the height of the 2020 COVID -19, pandemic teams of 6 were regularly seen in Regent’s Park & Primrose Hill. For UME’s (unlicensed music events) like the raves on Primrose Hill, “AID” police are drafted in from other parts of London. When the situation on Primrose Hill has been very serious the Police Territorial Support Group has been called to assist.
4) The future of policing in Regent’s Park & Primrose Hill?
Police numbers in London have been cut back drastically in the past 5 years but, in 2020, a re-think in Government led to the decision to fund the recruitment of 20,000 more officers across the nation. Even though crime is still seen to be relatively low in the Royal Parks it has been on the increase in recent years. It is hoped that the increase in police numbers will lead to a greater focus on crime in the Royal Parks whether it is through the Royal Parks police or from Camden, Westminster, or other sources.
Although it is likely that the responsibility for monitoring park regulations will remain with the police, The Royal Parks has been trialling the use of “Rangers” in Richmond and Greenwich Parks. These volunteers, who are members of their local Friends, wear orange jackets, are trained by TRP and act under their authority. They assist visitors, watch for emergencies, and, if safe to do so, encourage visitors to obey park regulations. They are NOT police but may help to deter the petty offences such as riding on park footpaths and dogs in Queen Mary’s Gardens. The Friends hope to establish a ranger team in 2021/22.
Royal Parks Constabulary image – Christian Bortes/Flickr
Mark Elliott, January 2020