Friday, 7 March 2008

PCSOs - "There There Policing"

“Police community support officers are playing a vital role in local neighbourhoods in Cornwall, as part of the wider police family.” (Devon and Cornwall Constabulary)

Brian Paddick was the highest ranking openly gay policeman, as Deputy Assistant Commissioner, when he resigned from London’s Metropolitan police force in 2007, after serving 30 years. He has now written a book about his experiences and gives an interesting insight into life as a policeman.

In a Sunday Mail newspaper article on 2nd March 2008, Paddick writes about several police related topics, including the role of Police Community Support Officers - a topic previously written about on Cornwall police Watch (PCSOs – Traffic Warden’s?). From Paddick’s article a keener insight can be gleamed into the real role of PCSOs and their usefulness to community policing.

In the article Paddick says:

“Senior officers felt they needed to persuade the public the streets were safe, so they invented Reassurance Policing - swiftly nicknamed There There Policing - and its task force, the new Police Community Support Officers.

Ian Blair had created the idea of PCSOs during his time as chief constable of Surrey. PCSOs were employed to be "the eyes and ears of the police" and "reassure the public".

They wore a uniform and patrolled the streets but they had few powers and much less training and equipment than real police officers.

The Police Federation was understandably concerned that PCSOs represented policing on the cheap. Although PCSOs were given the power to detain someone for up to 30 minutes, thus allowing regular police officers to arrive, they often found themselves powerless to stop people running off.

Their limitations quickly became apparent. Some PCSOs had to be rescued from Stratford shopping centre in East London when some local youths deliberately targeted them because they had no powers.

In a recent and more serious case, two PCSOs looked on as two members of the public tried to rescue a young girl and boy from a pond.

By the time a real police officer arrived and jumped into the pond, it was too late to save the boy.

I now believe the whole concept of the PCSO to be flawed.

If we have to pay people to be the "eyes and ears of the police", rather than relying on the public, then something has gone terribly wrong with British policing.
We currently have fully trained, fully equipped police officers spending up to half their time performing administrative tasks in police stations while PCSOs patrol the streets.

Surely this is the wrong way round. If we could use the money currently spent on PCSOs on keyboard operators doing the admin tasks for regular officers, we could significantly increase the amount of time each police officer spends on the street.
The police service in which I was a rookie cop was flawed. But in its favour it allowed officers to spend time in their communities, preventing and solving crime and comforting its victims.

Today I see them hidebound by paperwork, targets and political correctness. It's no longer Life On Mars, but I do sometimes look at the Home Office and the executive of New Scotland Yard and wonder just what planet they're on.”

This said, one of the main benefits of PSCOs is that many of them do come from the areas they patrol, which is more than can be generally said about Cornwall’s police officers today.

• Line Of Fire, by Brian Paddick, is published by Simon&Schuster on March 25 priced £17.99.

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