When is a police officer not a police officer?
When they are a Police Community Support Officers
When they are Police Public Enquiry Counter Officers
When they are Police Scenes of Crime Officers (CSI)
When they are Civilian Investigating Officers
When they are Police Property Officers.
You may wonder what my point is. Take a look at this article;
Update: The article has now been amended. The headline previously referred to the offender as a Police officer
There is no doubt that the actions of this man are despicable. I deplore his behaviour and he deserves imprisonment. One could argue that 8 years is not enough but sentencing is another debate altogether.
My issue is with the title of the story and the comments allegedly made by the judge who also described him as a police officer. Something he is clearly not. Neither now nor at the time of the offences.
The Oxford dictionary describes an officer as;
1. A person holding a position of authority, especially one with a commission, in the armed services, the mercantile marine, or on a passenger ship:
a policeman or policewoman:
The definition specifically identifies a policeman or policewoman. That said it also fits that if a PCSO has a position of authority (they do; albeit limited) then they too can be described as officers.
If we move on from that we have to look at the use of “police” to qualify the use of officer. A PCSO is employed by their respective police force. So in simple terms they are an officer, employed by the police and therefore an officer of the police; a police officer?
Looking at the dictionary definition it identifies a policeman and a policewoman as examples. It would be counterintuitive to have used the term police officer in defining what an officer is and so the gender specific terms have been used. Policeman and policewoman (or lady) are terms still used by the public as is WPC on fewer occasions. Within the organisation though these terms were squashed as part of equality reforms many years ago. Policemen and women of every rank are constables but have referred to themselves as police officers both within the organisation and with the public for a long time.
A police officer is a sworn officer. A constable. A servant of the crown entrusted with many powers.
A PCSO, or any of the other examples above, is an employee. They may be delegated certain powers but they are very restricted in comparison to a police officer. They are not the same.
Historically many roles now covered by police staff were resourced by police officers. The property officer was a police officer. The scenes of crime officer was a police officer. As such it is understandable why officer has continued to be used as a suffix to many job titles within the service.
This does create confusion though. I have lost count of how many times I have been told by somebody that they have spoken to the desk sergeant at a police station. They haven’t. In most cases they have spoken to a police staff enquiry counter officer. The Govt and ACPO exacerbated this common misperception issue in a huge way with the introduction of PCSO’s.
PCSO’s were put in uniform almost identical to police officers. They wore hi-vis coats with “Police” emblazoned across the back and “community support officer” in a tiny font underneath. They were put in liveried police vehicles to drive around for their work when they were supposed to be on foot. Chief Officers under pressure to put uniforms on the street used PCSO’s to give a false impression of how many police officers were on the street. This was expanded further by one of my Chief Cons who deemed that no patrols would double crew at any time until ALL vehicles were on the road. This decreased efficiencies, cost more money and put officers at risk but this is not a topic for this blog.
The crux is that a game of deception was played and it works too. The desk sergeant is a good example. Another is my children’s school. They asked me if the police officer who came to talk to the children could come again. Despite a different hat, more visible identification and some different uniform they did not know or realise that the person was a PCSO.
Maybe it is therefore understandable why the article is factually incorrect? Not to my mind. “This Is Somerset” is owned by Northcliffe Media. They claim to be “one if the UK’s leading local multimedia businesses”. They know local matters and they know the news. They know without doubt the difference between police officers and community support officers but have disregarded this fact to sensationalise a very sickening story.
Their misrepresentation of the facts only seeks to prolong the public misconception of the two very different roles.
I have had some criticism on twitter about my comments. I hope the blog explains two things.
1. I abhor the offences committed and Dunn deserves prison
2. I am not against PCSO’s. They have been used as political pawns by the Govt and ACPO to fool the public in some regards but they do undertake valuable work for the service. They are just not police officers.
I am pleased to report that @thisissomnews have corrected their article. Thank you