PCSO's: a cost effective resource?
I have been involved in Neighbourhood Policing for many years and welcomed the first tranche of Police Community Support Officer’s (PCSO’s) who were introduced to the Utopian Police Force in 2003. We had recently introduced beat officers into every area in the county. They were spread a bit thin and PCSO’s were welcomed by most as an additional resource to help us gain intelligence, provide a uniform presence and deal with low level anti social behaviour and problems in the community.
Even then PCSO’s had their critics and they were seen by some as policing on the cheap. They were ridiculed for their lack of powers and it was suggested that the public were being conned when they saw uniforms patrolling the streets with limited training and effect.
Like police officers, some of the PCSO’s proved to be very good, others not so. The good ones got stuck into their communities and became well known. They came up with diversionary activities for young people and kept Neighbourhood Watch, Residents Associations and Councillors happy by giving them time and providing a conduit for information. They gathered intelligence and were a font of knowledge regarding their communities.
Over the last 6 years I have seen things change. We still have two types of PCSO in Utopia. We have the younger recruit who is using the role to have a look at the police with a view to joining as an officer. Their commitment to Neighbourhoods is limited. If they want to join the police all they want to do is jump in cars and respond to 999 calls. The majority are not really interested in getting involved in communities.
The second type are the older PCSO recruit, some of whom are an interesting bunch and vary from housewives returning to the workplace after having a family to people with all sorts of experience who may have been made redundant or just fancied a change of career. Disillusionment has set in among many of these. There is no career structure for PCSO’s. Pounding the beat on your feet in all weathers for year after year starts to lose its appeal. Even the best of our PCSO’s are struggling with motivation and the best managers are struggling to get value for money from them.
The media has made a lot of a small number of incidents where PCSO’s have apparently failed to act. I don’t place much store in any of that. We have all heard the story of the two PCSO’s who allegedly watched someone drown. The truth is they arrived ten minutes after the victim had disappeared in the water. There was nothing they could do. The fact is the public and, of course, offenders are wise to the limited powers and capabilities of our PCSO’s. The police cannot help them every time some yob is lippy or abusive to them. The public are becoming disillusioned with this role. They still regard it as better than nothing but want real police officers with powers and who use them.
I was a fan of PCSO’s; now I feel we need to review the role and its place in our police force. Should we try and make the role more interesting and support other areas of the business by giving PCSO’s additional tasks to do, for example, taking witness statements and viewing/seizing CCTV?
In April 2010 the Home Office subsidy on PCSO funding comes to an end and the whole cost will be borne by the Police Authorities. I now believe that is the time to reduce the number of PCSO’s and use those savings to increase the number of police officers in Neighbourhoods.