Friday, August 24, 2007

Daily Wail continued.

As I was saying the other day. Daily Mail reader is shocked and appalled to wait 50 minutes for a real police officer to turn up to a fairly nasty assault on his son.

I say real police officer. I have got to admit that I am beginning to get a little irate when I see reports which refer to a PCSO as a community police officer. You might say that it is just a minor play on words but there is a significant difference. A PCSO is not supposed to be a police officer, and to refer to them as such is inaccurate.

I've debated PCSO's and their distinction (or not) from police officers before on this blog (with particular regard to uniform and appearance), and its a post which consistently gets referrals from search engines, and I don't propose to debate that again. My view remains the same, namely that there should be more of a visible distinction between regular officers and PCSO's. I was at a motorway services the other week and a PCSO was there handing out leaflets. Now don't get me wrong, she was doing an important job of making people aware that service stations are a criminals dream with all those unattended cars with sat nave, ipods and even caravans available for the taking. But I could only tell she was a PCSO when I got close enough to read her epaulettes. Her hat even had a chequered black and white band round it, black stab vest, black trousers. To a ordinary member of the public, they would've thought she was a police officer. But she was not. A criminal intent on doing no good may decide to have a go yet she has no protective equipment beyond the stab vest and no training for dealing with it.

But anyway. Back to the Mail.

First of all, here's my perspective. I am unashamedly a uniform response officer. For me, it is what the majority of policing is about. With the exception of some ultra-specialist departments like surveillance and counter-terrorism nearly everything else the police deal with, a response team officer (I include specialist response teams like firearms and traffic here) will be the first to encounter it and make the initial moves. You'd think that therefore most other departments should therefore act to help and back up the front line. Unfortunately it is usually percieved the opposite way round, namely uniform response should do more to help the other departments.

In my division, the regular response teams are quite distinct from the neighbourhood teams. PCSO's only work on neighbourhood teams. Therefore I cannot comment on exactly what they do.

What I can comment on is the impact they have had on myself as a response team supervisor. And the answer is minimal. I appreciate this may be unpopular with some readers who are PCSO's (I know there's one or two out there) but here is why. I have only heard one usable relevant piece of intelligence sourced from a PCSO, which was when he recognised a wanted character. I cannot deploy them to any kind of call. I can only use them on a counter-terrorism cordon, and even then it has to be one where I cannot give them a scene log as they've never seen one before. It feels like we have just as much youth disorder as we've ever had. So I take exception to the Home Office stating they are there to support police officers. I have never seen this support.

Now if I was a neighbourhood police team sergeant, I would anticipate I would have a different story to tell, of how his or her PCSOs have got the time to engage with vulnerable community sections (e.g. the elderly) and how their job is not about crime and detections (true enough) but about building bridges. My argument remains the same though. For the 14000 PCSO's you could have 8-9000 PCs who would be able to do exactly the same job- and a whole lot more. My understanding of the the way this was budgeted, certainly to start with, is that the PCSO budget was extra funding made available by central government. Therefore the PCSOs have not taken over a PCs role, i.e. every PCSO has replaced a PC: the PCSO is in addition to the PC. I say 8-9000 extra PCs would make more of a difference, even in the ringfenced safer neighbourhood role.

I note the home offices definintion of a PCSO's purpose is completely unquantifiable, in complete contrast to their attitude towards police officers, which is measure everything, set a target relating to everything and then cut budgets if these targets are not reached, which of course really helps.

So we have: Reassure people (has anyone seen a survey to find out if this is the case? Perhaps I ought to do one of those poll things); build confidence in communities (ditto! In my area, I have never seen a PCSO round where I live, and I live in a fairly large town. According the board up next to the local Co-Op, there's two dedicated to my ward. Where are they?); and support police (er... maybe).

Do tell me if I ever sound like a scratched record going on about this, won't you....