Extra ‘spotters’ are being deployed at football grounds around West Yorkshire this season in a bid to reduce the cost to taxpayers of policing matches in the county.
West Yorkshire Police is training officers to increase the number who can act as a link between the force and supporter groups, as well as providing on-the-ground intelligence on fans’ activities, at Leeds United, Huddersfield Town and Bradford City.
The aim of the pilot scheme run this season is that fewer police officers are needed elsewhere at the grounds and the cost to the force is reduced.
It is also hoped that the extra spotters, known officially as ‘football intelligence officers’, can “build rapport and engagement with crowds and in particular those sections who may present risk of disorder or violence”.
The move has been praised by a case worker from a group representing football supporters, while a senior police officer has said he is “keen to see the findings” of the new approach.
Policing football matches is a considerable expense for local police forces. A dispute between Leeds United and West Yorkshire Police over who should pay for policing on the streets and car parks near Elland Road had to be settled in court, with the force told to pay more than £1m to the club.
In 2015, police warned that it was getting harder to meet the cost of covering football matches after research showed the amount clubs are paying forces nationwide has fallen 20 per cent over the last three seasons.
West Yorkshire Police’s pilot scheme sees extra spotters deployed at some fixtures in the county, depending on the risk of disorder. The force currently has 22 spotters working in varying roles across the force, but is planning to train more. Spotters’ duties previously focused on intelligence gathering about potentially disorderly supporters, but their role is now expanding to include engagement work with fans.