Two volunteer housing inspectors have become the first in the country to receive special police powers which will allow them to interrogate suspects.
Bill Whelan and Michael Hearn were awarded the powers by Hertfordshire Constabulary in order to more effectively patrol residential estates in Stevenage.
The unpaid volunteers now have the power to demand the name and address of anyone they suspect of indulging in anti-social behaviour.
They can also run checks on the Police National Computer (PNC) database in Hertfordshire police control room.
The force said the pair were the first volunteer inspectors in the country to be given the powers under the Community Safety Accreditation Scheme.
Most other individuals invested with police powers are already employees of security firms working for organisations such as hospitals or universities.
If anyone refuses to give Bill or Michael their name and address they can call uniformed officers for back-up, in a bid to help clamp down on anti-social behaviour.
But campaign groups have condemned the move as ”intrusive and potentially dangerous”.
Dylan Sharpe, Campaign Director of Big Brother Watch, said: ”Those empowered under these schemes don’t have anything near the training or respect necessary to order around members of the public and access their personal details.
”If people are to start trusting the police again, councils need to think twice before hiring scores of these sort of citizen law enforcers and giving them a free pass to the Police National Computer.”
The Community Safety Accreditation Scheme was introduced by the Police Reform Act 2002 to enable chief constables to accredit employees of organisations who contribute towards community safety.
People accredited under such a scheme are called accredited persons (APs) and can be identified by a nationally standardised badge which must be worn at all times.
The Hertfordshire inspectors will perform walk-abouts, examine void spaces, carry out caretaking duties and grounds maintenance and deal with abandoned vehicles, graffiti and litter problems.
A police spokeswoman said if the scheme was successful the volunteer inspectors could be given further powers including the ability to issue fixed penalty fines.
The volunteers were presented with certificates, identity cards, and cards displaying their accredited status by Chief Inspector Richard Liversidge.
They were fully vetted before the powers were conferred and they will receive further training to enable them to carry out their duties.
Chief Inspector Liversidge said: ”People have a right to feel safe and should feel safe in Stevenage.
”We are continuously working with our partners, such as Stevenage Homes, to further reduce crime and anti-social behaviour.
”Working with communities is key to building good relationships and making Stevenage an even better place to live and I am sure Bill and Michael will play a vital role in the work being undertaken by policing teams and other organisations on a daily basis.”
Debbie Rabôt, director of housing and customer services in Stevanage, said the scheme would help improve safety for residents.
She said: ”These accreditations will help to deliver our commitment to working with the community safety partnership in Stevenage and ensuring that the estates in which our customers stay safe.”