Thursday, 2 December 2010

PCSOs are more important than the government is giving them credit for

At the moment, PCSOs are currently 75% funded by the Home Office; because this money is a ring fenced ‘neighbourhood policing grant’, police constables must spend this money on visible policing in the form of PCSOs . This ring fence will expire in March 2011, when the government must decide to whether it wants to renew it or not.

If it does not, and the neighbourhood policing grant becomes is merged into the annual policing budget, the government’s cuts to policing are going to become a real problem. If the Home Office plans go ahead, then the annual police grant is going to be cut by 20%. If this happens then the first thing to go with be the PCSOs, and the second will be the public’s sense of confidence in the police. Remember, the Chief Constable of West Midlands police said that cuts to the police grant of more than 12% would mean “radical” changes to the way neighbourhood are policed.

Policing is an example of the government saving money in the wrong places. The fact is, the public don’t want it, and neither does anyone who seriously looks at the issue. The report of the Home Affairs Select Committee in March this year commended what the previous Labour government were doing with policing, noting in particular the efforts made to “maximise frontline and visible policing”. While the facts have stood still the world has moved around them. While visible policing is still a priority for the public, it is apparently no longer for this government.

The difference between Police Officers and PCSOs rests on their employment status. As officers of the Crown, Police Officers cannot be made redundant, but PCSOs are contracted as police staff and can be made redundant as easily as any other employee.

But this status does not reflect the service which they provide. PCSOs are not expendable backroom staff; they are the reassuring public face of policing. The public’s belief and confidence in their police force is a central aspect of good policing (in some cases it is the most important). When people are not suffering as the direct victim of crime, feeling safe at night and confident in your area is just as important to people as battling drugs and drunken violence.

It is this aspect of the PCSOs service which is being somewhat taken for granted, and which is unaddressed in their employment status. The purpose which they serve is a purpose still needed.

I urge everyone to read the plea from Ed Balls and sign his online petition at: