There has been a lot of discussion in the police blogs recently on the role of PCSOs. I guess this is due to a recent TV series on PCSOs Beat: Life on the Street. I haven’t seen the programme so I can’t comment on its content but I want to make a few points about PCSOs in general, particularly in light of some of the appalling comments made by some police officers in the blogs.
DisgruntledCop slags them off as a complete & utter waste of money, calling them “Dayglo lumps”, but confesses to not knowing what they do. At the time of writing there were 32 comments (hint, hint, see my earlier posts on commenting here), many of which serve merely to slag off PCSOs. One anonymous cop says “don’t get me wrong. I have several friends who are PCSOs, and they do a great job. After all, I didn’t spend 31 weeks at training school up north and then a further 18 months learning to the best police officer I can be just so I can deal with civil disputes and other non crime related dross that the call handlers send us to.” And, “Get used to the notion that some police officers will never trust you or want you at their station. The idea was not welcomed by the majority of proper front line police officers. Get used to the idea that you are not good enough to get into the police force as a proper police officer, even if you have never tried to get into the police force.”
Another says, “I don’t know many PCSOs who want to stay a PCSO, they are all wannabe PCs.
Another complains about name-calling, slags off someone for their spelling & grammatical errors and proceeds to make 11 grammatical & spelling errors in 5 short paragraphs.
PC Plod, talking to a PCSO says, “have you given any thought as to your prospects of advancement, or are you happy with being a PCSO for the rest of your working life?”, er, that’ll be like me and the thousands of other PCs who have wanted to remain as PCs for 30 years then will it, I’d say that was highly commendable, perhaps PC Plod was saying the same, but I doubt it.
What these comments, and the hundreds of others in the police forums, actually do is spread false propaganda about the role of PCSOs and many of them are factually incorrect. I may be in somewhat of a minority, but I wish to attempt to adjust the balance.
One of the blogs complains about the wages of a PCSO, saying that they get more than starting PCs. PCSOs get paid between £13,000 per year and £24,000 depending on which force they work for. Hertfordshire pays the most & Lincolnshire pays the least as salaries were set by individual forces. The higher-paying forces, in hindsight, have realised that they are paying too much and have frozen the salaries so current PCSOs on the top whack will get no pay rise for several years until the salary falls into line with the amended value of the role (which will be somewhat less than current top pay)
PCs start on about £20,000 rising to £22,700 after training. (Met officers get about 6 grand more). There is only one force which starts their PCSOs on a salary greater than a newbie PC; Herts. There are only 3 forces whose maximum PCSO salary is greater than a newbie PC; Kent, Suffolk & the Met (who also have extra allowances for their PCSOs). So the assertion that PCSOs get paid more than new PCs, whilst it is correct in a small minority of cases, is actually very misleading. Also, PCs have a salary structure which increases every year up to £32,000. PCSOs don’t have such a structure, indeed, some forces will not be giving their PCSOs a rise for years.
Many people say things like, ‘for every 3 PCSOs we could have 2 PCs’. They base this on the fact that a PC costs a few grand a year more than a PCSO. This is also misleading and does not take into account that many of their PCs are paid in excess of £35,000 year, they have an excellent pension which can be paid at 2/3 their salary for longer than they were actually a PC, and it costs many many more times to train a PC and maintain career training than it does for a PCSO.
Many police officers fail to understand the role of the PCSO. Criticisms about not being sworn officers, unable to investigate crimes, where are they all on a Friday & Saturday night when it’s all kicking off, if they find a crime they have to call the police, etc etc etc.
PC Southwest said on one of the blogs that they have, “no crimes to carry & investigate, no heavy workload, if there is a crime they can call a PC, no serious confrontation, no night shifts or working past midnight, not accountable for the amount of force used, no having to respond to code one calls, no stress.”
Well no shit Sherlock. That’s like slagging off a nurse because they don’t have to go out in an ambulance on a Saturday night; they are different jobs!
The role of a PCSO includes:
- Providing a visible & reassuring presence in the community
- Attending disorder, nuisance & anti-social behaviour
- Dealing with community issues
- Gathering evidence through observation
- Helping with missing person enquiries
- Assisting with house to house enquiries
- Crowd control
- Directing traffic at accidents and roadblocks
Exactly the kind of stuff which many of the cops who slag them off moan like fuck when they get tasked to do it. Our PCSOs do a whole lot more. They often offer up to do jobs which they’re not really supposed to do but we let them anyway, they back up officers, take crime reports, assist with prisoners, all sorts.
There was a joke in one of the daily papers last week which showed a big bastard burglar coming out of a doorway carrying a crowbar & a PCSO who says “Can you wait until I get a proper copper”. It gives a completely false impression of the role of a PCSO. Something like a PC opening the same door, water pours out onto the street & the copper gets slagged off for saying “Can you wait until I get a proper plumber”. Maybe the joke should have showed nobody at the door & the burglar walking off into the sunset with his bag of goodies because that is the alternative to not having the PCSO there. At least they can call an officer.
I’m a tax-payer as well as a police officer and I pay rather a lot. Do you think I’d get more value for money paying someone 35 grand a year to stand outside my kids’ school asking people not to park on the zig-zags when someone will do it for 15 or 17 grand? There are many other roles which exactly the same applies. PCSOs free up police resources to attend to many more ‘serious’ matters (and we can’t even do that properly).
If PCSOs aren’t carrying out the roles they are recruited for, that is the fault of those who manage them. In my experience they have been a valuable addition to the ‘policing community’ and provide resources for stuff which would otherwise be left ignored.
Yes, we might be able to do a bit more with more officers, we could have one on every street if we had enough, but it ain’t gonna happen.
We have, what is it, 141,000 police officers. Numbers increase year on year and mostly have done and will continue to do so. As police (mis)management takes officers away from their core responsibilities a huge gap is being left in the market and PCSOs are filling this gap.
Maybe if managers sorted out internal problems with their ‘human resource management’ and got back to proper policing, we could have more officers tasked to ‘proper policing’ instead of being in ‘not my remit’ roles. Then we could have the best of both worlds.
If you’re gonna slag off PCSOs, and there are things which aren’t right about the system, you might at least attempt to find out what they are supposed to do.