Have a look at this news report.
** Click on video a little way down “Power for PCSO’s” **
I can’t remember what I was doing when PCSO’s were first introduced. I certainly don’t remember them being called “Blunkett’s Bobbies.” That said I was probably far too busy running around trying to do my job the best I could. I do remember thinking that the role seemed to be a waste of time. The PCSO’s would go out on patrol and the minute things got complicated or needed powers they would have to call a police officer. How was this going to free up some of our time? We were told that they were there to be amongst our communities, talking to local people on the street and being visible.
I was a bit puzzled at this as where I worked in a large inner city area we had what we called an “area” team. Not like an “area” car but a team of officers who were dedicated to local community areas. They managed a beat and did not have the responsibility of immediate response duties. That fell to the “section” patrols. They were brilliant. They knew every villain on their patch, got involved in community events, attended police/community consultative meetings and generally knew their specific beat/s inside out, upside down and back to front. I couldn’t see what PCSO’s were doing other than what the area staff already did but with less powers.
The Police have perennially been criticised for not being on the beat. The public, rightly or wrongly want to see their police walking the beat. We have been criticised for not doing this ever since the panda car was introduced. David Blunkett in this news report even alludes to Z Cars. One of my Chief Constables was so concerned about this that he did two things. He banned police officers doubling up on all shifts (2 in a car) until every single car was out on the street. If there were more staff than cars then double crewing could go ahead. This didn’t increase the number of police. It just gave an impression that there were more of us out there than there actually were. In many regards it put more officers at risk as their immediate back up was no longer there. This is still an ongoing issue today. The second thing they did was to provide PCSO’s with hi-vis jackets with POLICE emblazoned across the back. Identical to the ones police officers wear. Then in much smaller letters underneath “Community Support Officer”. To the untrained public eye did this make it seem like more police were out on the street? I don’t know but you can see why people may think so. Image and perception is often more important than safety.
I find that we are constantly criticised for not being in touch with our communities. We need to get hands on and engage with people. Talk about the real issues and tackle them head on. This is all excellent fodder for the police and increasing public confidence in us. We have worked toward this over the last few years and as KPI stats start to vanish and restorative justice initiatives step up I see public confidence increasing and common sense making a long overdue return to police work. We are getting out there and that is what everyone wants.
So if we are making these inroads what does this news report tell us? It tells us that PCSO’s may become the first port of call for policing matters. Does this keep the police in their communities? No it pushes us a layer backwards.
Then we take a look at the outsourcing of police functions as done in Lincolnshire recently and being put out to tender in West Midlands. I tend to agree with the Kent Police Federation Chairman.. outsourcing is privatisation by another word. As we hand over more initial contact matters to the likes of G4S, GSL and Reliance does this keep the police in their communities? No it pushes us another layer back.
How can we be expected to be in amongst the public if we are reduced in numbers and the very roles that put us there at grass roots levels are taken away from us?
Governments tend to have a much longer view than us. With my cynical head firmly fixed in place I envisage a meeting much like the TV series Yes Minister.
PM - “We simply can’t afford the police anymore. It’s just that they are so caught up in regulations and tradition and pension we can’t do anything with them. We could never reduce their pay. I don’t see a way out of this.”
Advisor – “Sir. What we do is introduce civilian staff. We will call them PCSO’s. They will look like police but only have a fraction of their powers and a fraction of their pay. We will let it run for about 10yrs or so and then gradually increase their powers but not their pay. At the same time we will bring about massive reform to the police and cut their numbers. They will go into decline and we will drip feed more and more powers to the PCSO’s until we can call them… lets say.. Constables .. ? But on much less pay than their predecessors.”
PM – “I like this. Undermine the police from within and get the pay and pension bill down. Wonderful. Draw me up a 25yr plan.”
Allow me a little latitude on the above but you can hopefully see my point?
As police we need to be in our communities and building trust. Not through police staff or private companies but as ourselves. The government whilst claiming to try and increase public confidence in the police with one hand are building walls between us with the other. We cannot afford to be a responsive service that only deals with incidents where force is required. We will quickly become despised and loathed by even those who currently hold us in high regard. This isn’t policing by consent in any shape or form.
The face of policing in England and Wales is on the verge of a change. It is starting to look increasingly like a private company that will only be interested in profit returns for shareholders. The police service will once again be a “force” but one that nobody respects and nobody wants.
Is this what the government is trying to do?
I asked many officers this week if they were attending the march in London arranged by the Police Federation. The level of apathy was astonishing. I can’t say this strongly enough. Get to London on the 10th. Be there. Stand shoulder to shoulder with your colleagues from around the country and show with pride what value you place on the office of constable and it’s key role in society. There may be no coming back from this if we fall now.
** If you are a Current PCSO’s you should not take this post as a criticism of what you do. You have been given a job and that it is what you do. My complaint is more about the potential changes to your role that undermine policing. I’m also aware that some forces have now changed their jacket make-up so that POLICE is not so misleading or prominent.