Blunkett’s Bobbies

Have a look at this news report.

Blunkett’s Bobbies

** 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.

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9 thoughts on “Blunkett’s Bobbies”

  1. Interesting post and raises lots of good points especially about the publics confidence and how they see the police and PCSO’s.
    My own personal view (and i have a family member WPC in the force) is that PCSO’s dont have peoples confidence whilst a police officer does. Most people think PCSO’s are policing on the cheap but carnt do the full role and have to turn to the more qualified police officers.
    If I needed help I would rather have a police officer than a PCSO handling it anyday. A police officer install’s confidence when they turn up.

    1. Thanks for the reply. I think the problem for me is that the default fall back position for many given situations, even those that are nothing to do with the police, is the police. So whilst a layered service is not wholly unacceptable we have to know where to draw the line because when the situation reaches beyond the powers of the PCSO it will fall back to warranted officers to resolve.

      Furthermore, increasing the powers of PCSO’s and giving them a greater role in “first contact” will simply distance the police further from the public and the communities they serve. Something that every politician and Chief Officer is telling us not to do.

  2. I am a retired PC who survived 30yrs service from 1970, all that time the main cry was understaffing. The govt of the day said they would put more uniforms on the street, not PC’s You have outlined the problems in a good concise order. The Sheey demonstration showed what determination there was to unite and show contempt for the suggested reforms, It is time to show that same determination no matter what rank, get to London on 10th May. A wonderful article,,, David Whiteside exPC

    1. Thanks David. I’ll be there on the 10th and I hope to see even more than the “Fair Pay/Play” march a few years ago. Other industrial action may well frustrate our efforts if RD’s are cancelled.

  3. I am not a PCSO but I have been Police Staff for nearly 16 years (10 of which managing both Police Staff and Police Constables).

    I remember the introduction of PCSO’s in my Force, I also remember the concerted effort by the Federation at the time, to villify the role which the Federation referred to as ‘Plastic Police’.

    I have to admit I did have my own concerns however, I don’t think any of the scaremongering has ever been justified.

    I remember having a discussion with a Police Officer who worked for me in a so called ‘back office’ job complaining about PCSO’s taking over the role of neighbourhood officers, my reply was that if there weren’t so many Police Officers in back office roles, maybe there would be no need to employ PCSO’s.

    At the time my force identified nearly 400 Police Constables employed in roles that did not require any warranted powers, but we had less than 300 PCSO’s.

    I understand the point you are making, but it is always really disappointing for me to see the official Federation line being used to marginalise Police Staff.

    I, along with many people, think the introduction of PCSO’s has been a postive step in bettering the lot of our communities. Some of them work tirelessly and make a real difference.

    Bearing in mind the cuts that the Government has made to Policing will see a reduction of over 18000 Police Staff. Plus the Winsor Recommendations will mean a substantial pay cut for many (including PCSO’s), it would be nice, just once in a while to see Federation officials give some recogition that we are all members of the same team.

    1. I hope the article doesn’t imply that I don’t recognise the work existing PCSO’s have done. It was the reason I added the footnote for clarity.

      It leaves a very bitter taste in my mouth to think that in x amount of years a PCSO could have similar powers to a police constable now but be paid considerably less. Increasing the powers of PCSO’s puts them in more danger and at a heightened risk of assault by violent offenders. The federation, I believe, is fighting for current officers, but also to ensure the role is given the credit it deserves and is backed up by adequate remuneration and conditions. They, nor I, want to see PCSO’s fighting the front line, with much reduced conditions and pay.

      The office of constable needs to be protected so that those who choose to be police officers whether coming from a butchers shop, a hairdressers or from being a PCSO are protected the same way we are now.

      I would add for clarity that I am neither a federation rep nor spokesperson for the organisation.

  4. I generally ‘Like’ a lot of what you post and find that you take a well considered and objective view of the various issues. I held back on this post because deep down i was disappointed at what i detected as an unfortunate and negative even blinkered view to PCSOs. I intended to offer my point of view and on returning to this post i was pleased to find ‘Bloody Civvy’ presenting the opposing viewpoint quite rationally – and because of their personal involvement seemingly objectively from the other perspective. Certainly far better than I could. I have just been enjoying the luxury of the retiree – sitting in front of the ‘box’ and enjoying Judge Judy. So, not meaning to offend, but nonetheless probably risking sounding a bit harsh (more in fun) I would like to quote her reaction on occasion: ‘Grow up!’ I believe that the politicians have tried to improve policing whilst trying to save costs. I see PCSOs as a supporting service to the fully warranted officer. Yes, undoubtedly when the proverbial ‘hits the fan’ they will have to call on the fully fledged officer to come in support. But then so does the fully warranted officer on occasion. I believe a more cooperative and less self-interested reaction is more appropriate. The Service is to defend and protect the citizenry. My instinct tells me there is a place for a layered police force. I would have no problem with the PCSOs getting more responsibility proportionate to their training and experience and so be even more effective in supporting the ‘senior’ service officers. Please don’t sacrifice your objectivity and blind yourself to genuine efforts to improve the overal policing service at an affordable cost – especially in these difficult times. No-one is immune from the pain inflicted by the economy. Be grateful that each of you is providing a valuable and respected service to the community, let alone that you have a job as a respected professional. The video ‘Police payment and pensions’ was very effective and sobering – but resist politicising and demeaning your unique public service professional position in society. When times were better the politicians did improve the lot of the police. Hopefully those times will return. Meantime ‘share the pain’ but retain your dignity and professionalism. Apologies if the ‘judge Judy quip didn’t sound as funny as I wanted it to – all meant in well intended jest – and to make a point of course. I am a sincere supporter of our police and admire and value their role in our society.

    1. Thanks for another reply John. Always welcome.

      The bit I continually struggle with is that every politician, chief officer, pressure group and commentator is claiming the police need to be more community focussed. Whilst PCSO’s are clearly part of the police they are not police officers. When an incident occurs such as last summer it is not the PCSO’s that are pulled to pieces in the press.. it is the police officers. We are the bad boys.

      If we are to resolve this then we need to work, with others, but work all the same at the grass roots level to build trust and confidence. We need to do that ourselves as police officers and not through surrogates even though they work for the police.

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