CRITICS of a decision a year ago to disband a dedicated parks police team have said their worst fears have been realised.

Redbridge Community Safety Team, which is made up of police officers paid for by the council, replaced the unit in October last year to save money.

But the move was met with strong opposition, with park users fearing the new team, which also deals with general anti-social behaviour, licensing and trading standards, would be spread too thinly.

And now those who campaigned against the move say the parks have deteriorated as a result.

Barbara Edwards, 63, of Thorold Road, Ilford collected 3,000 signatures on a petition in an attempt to save the unit.

She said: "There is more drug dealing going on because I see lots of those little cannabis bags.

"There are also more scotch and vodka bottles lying around. I have also seen used condoms lying around by the war memorial and hypodermic needles.

"We used to see the parks police around all the time and they were friendly, but you rarely see the police now."

Frank Middleweek, 67, of Uplands Road, Woodford Bridge, regularly walks his dog in Roding Valley Park.

He said: "The worst thing the council ever did was get rid of the park police.

"Every time we call the police when people cause a nuisance at the bottom of my road they said they would prioritise the problem and four hours later they would turn up.

"The park police would be round in 10 to 15 minutes, the people causing trouble would get their just desserts and that would be the end of it."

However, the council has defended the new unit, saying it has arrested a number of people for offences relating to drugs, prostitution and burglary.

Councillor Shoaib Patel, cabinet member for community safety, said, "The Redbridge Community Police team has been a tremendous success and I will be pushing for this team to continue the excellent work they have carried out in the Borough for future years to come.

"We know that initially some people were sceptical but we are now receiving good feedback from park user groups and residents who have noticed how effective the team has been in keeping the peace, making over 100 arrests and generally making people feel safer especially late into the night at weekends.

The council's £1.5million contract the Metropolitan Police expires in October 2014.

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