Impact of Police Community Support Officers
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Police forces across England and Wales in 2002 have been provided with a new member of the police force to support police officers. These Police Community Support Officers (PCSOs) were introduced in the Police Reform Act 2002 to address disorder, low level crime, high visible patrols, and public reassurance. This Act gave a list of limited standard and discretionary police powers to PCSOs. The role of the PCSO as an extended member of the police family links the community to the police, without all the powers typically associated with policing. This limitation has cast doubt over their effectiveness within the local community.
This report shows how powers vested in PCSOs have evolved to address issues of public confusion around their capabilities. Then the report argues that PCSOs patrols have made an impact upon crime levels and analyses criticism made about the PCSOs. This Report uses the British Crime Survey (BCS) trends in certain crime from 1981 to 2007. The trends show that since the PCSOs introduction in 2002 the majority of crime levels have started to decrease. Finally this report critically debates remarks made by David Gilbertson about PCSOs and compares them against case studies that have been conducted to find that these remarks are not at all true.
- ACPO - Association of Chief Police Officers
- ASB - Anti Social Behaviour
- BBC - British Broadcasting Corporation
- BCS - British Crime Survey
- BCU - Basic Command Unit
- CDA - Crime and Disorder Act 1998
- CSO - Community Support Officer
- CSOs - Community Support Officers
- FPN - Fixed Penalty Notice
- PCSO - Police Community Support Officer
- PCSOs - Police Community Support Officers
- PRA - Police Reform Act 2002
Policing in the United Kingdom (U.K) is undergoing considerable change; it is changing in profound ways, engineering the introduction of Police Community Support Officers (PCSOs). Ever since the introduction of PCSOs in the Police Reform Act (PRA) 2002, there has been much criticism ranging from their need in the community, to their effectiveness in their roles within society. These issues need to be addressed in order to give PCSOs the recognition they deserve. This report will show if the criticisms made are true or false in regards to PCSOs effectiveness around their roles within society. In order to do this it will seek to answer the following three aims:-
Aim one - How PCSOs powers have evolved over the course of time
Aim two - Have PCSOs impacted recorded crime whilst on patrol? This would act as statistical towards their effectiveness in society.
Aim three - Finally it aims to answer whether unpleasant claims made by Gilbertson are true or false, by comparing and contrasting studies that have been conducted.
Hypothesis – This report predicts that PCSOs are needed and are effective in their roles.
As a result the report aims to add a new dimension to resources available surrounding the PCSOs need and effectiveness.
Structure of Report
The report is presented in four chapters:
Chapter One: The Police Community Support Officers (PCSOs) and their Functionality
This chapter provides the history on the PCSO. In addition it explores the PCSOs roles and how their powers have evolved to address issues of public confusion.
Chapter Two: The Police Community Support Officers (PCSOs) on Patrol
This chapter looks at what PCSOs do on patrol and what the main issue they would face whilst on patrol is? Finally using the British Crime Survey trends on crime it assesses if PCSOs have made an impact on crime levels, since their introduction.
Chapter Three: Gilbertson perspective on PCSOs against studies
This chapter simply critically debates a certain remarks made by David Gilbertson about PCSOs using case studies that have been conducted.
Chapter Four: Conclusion and Recommendations
Simply brings together the main points that arise from pervious chapter to answer the main aims of this report and will state all recommendations that may have been expressed in the previous chapters.
Over this last decade, there has been considerable change in the way in which neighborhood policing is carried out. One of these changes has been the introduction of the Police Community Support Officers (PCSOs); PCSOs were first introduced in the Police Reform Act 2002. Since the introduction of PCSOs in 2002 there has been much criticism ranging from their, need in the community, to their effectiveness in their roles within society.
There are limited resources surrounding the issues of need and effectiveness on PCSOs, this may be due to their relatively recent introduction. However this review will look at some available resources in order to compare and contrast the effectiveness of PCSOs. In doing so my study aims to add a new dimension to resources available surrounding the PCSOs need and effectiveness.
The literature surrounding the introduction of PCSOs, Cooper et al (2007) Paskell (2007) and Crawford et al (2004) agreed that PCSOs were introduced in the Police Reform Act 2002 and also agree on the roles and powers PCSOs posses.
However the aims of each studies vary, Cooper et al (2007) study is conducted for the Home Office. The Home Office funded this study due to the demands for a national evaluation of PCSOs. There were three key aims for Cooper et al study, these were; first to provide a national profile on PCSOs in terms of their activities, deployment, designated powers and demographics. The second was to provide indications of the impact PCSOs have on the public, in terms of their levels of reassurance, their perceptions and an understanding of their roles. The final aim was to provide indications of impact PCSOs on low level crime/disorder, incidents and anti social behavior (ASB).
The methods used by Cooper et al (2007) were both quantitative and qualitative to gain research. The variety of data collected provided a stronger reliability around their findings as the data collected was of a large capacity. Data on a national level was collected from a survey of forces and a survey of PCSOs, by means of questionnaires. This is very reliable source of research as it done national and can be used as a national piece of evidence.
On a local level three forces where chosen as case studies and from each force four areas were selected for a detailed study. Two of these areas were control areas where PCSOs had not been deployed, and the other two areas where PCSOs had been deployed for some time.
Across the four forces interviews were conducted in police forces to collect data on a wide range of issues including, PCSOs deployment, supervision, training, induction and integration. The interviews were conducted on the two areas where PCSOs were deployed. Also data was collected from the control areas, after PCSOs were deployed, on their impact on crime levels for a two week period.
This is reliable as the range of evidence collected is immense, due to the interviews carried out over four different forces. Controls were used, for the data to be compared with, as this is very important. This ensures the data collected was overall a result of the PCSOs alone, as they were not present in the control force areas. However the research should have been carried out for more than two weeks to gain more valid results, enhancing the reliability of their findings. Also the reliability of Cooper et al (2007) research can be improved if they could carry out their study again, in the same manner. This would allow the two studies to be compared and contrasted to determine if PCSOs are effective.
Cooper et al (2007) concluded from their research that there was a need for PCSOs, as they act as visible and familiar presence through foot patrol and community engagement. As this was an issue due to police officers having less time to carry out these roles. This is an important piece of literature to my study as it tells me there is a need for the PCSOs. However Cooper et al (2007) did state that there were a range of factors that limited the PCSOs effectiveness. How PCSOs are deployed, how integrated they are and staff turnover that may impinge these requirements. These factors even though will not be considered in my study, still will need to be understood. They may provide valuable insight into the roles of the PCSOs and what they encounter on patrol.
Crawford et al (2004) investigated if PCSOs and other members of the extended police family had impacted recorded crime? This study was funded by University of Leeds Centre for Criminal Justice Studies. Crawford et al compared trends in crime levels in the cities of Leeds and Bradford, also conducting a study which used a twin site public opinion survey to assess the impact of PCSOs on the public (2004).
Crawford et al (2004) research appeared to provide positive light on PCSOs and other members of the extended police family, who can have an impact in relation to recorded crime. Crawford et al (2004) study showed that overall crime rates fell in these cities where PCSOs had been deployed. However Crawford et al (2004) was cautious around the interpretation of their findings, concluding that it is difficult to attribute changes in crime to PCSOs alone.
The twin site public opinion survey found that PCSOs are a popular innovation within communities and the public perceived an increase in police patrolling. This is a valuable source of information of what the public thinks of the PCSOs, also with the comparison of crime statistics would show if PCSOs have contributed to crime reduction since the deployment. However it can not be used as a national evaluation of what the entire population thinks of the PCSOs or can show how it has impacted other communities.
Furthermore, it may only be seen as valid for the cities of Bradford and Leeds, and invalid for other cities nationwide, as opinions of PCSOs may be different in other cities. Invalid due to PCSOs powers being changed as of 1st December 2007 (Home Office 2007) and the research was conducted two years on from when PCSOs initial introduction, which may be seen as less time to assess them. This is useful to my study as it tells me there may be other factors that have impacted crime levels, something which will be touched on in my study.
Paskell (2007) on the other hand started conducting their research in 1998 to 2006, on 12 representative disadvantaged neighbourhoods, looking into key factors with neighborhood decline and renewal. Also it was documented in their research on government regeneration and housing renewal. In 2006 Paskell completed their final rounds of visits on these neighborhoods. This research was intended for another purpose but also led to their report in 2006 on ‘Plastic Police or Community Support? : The Role of Police Community Support Officer with in low-income Neighborhoods’.
Paskell (2007) research is more valid as it has been conducted over a longer period of time, from before the PCSO existence and few years after the enactment and can be used as more persuasive argument of their impact. Paskell (2007) agrees with Cooper et al (2007), that PCSOs involvement was evident to policing and beyond. However Paskell (2007) did note that the research on PCSOs was conducted shortly after they were introduced and suggests may be PCSOs need more time to make impact before they can be analyzed on their effectiveness.
All three research studies showed PCSOs in a positive light, being an asset to the community. The information provided by Cooper et al (2007) study on the effectiveness of PCSOs, roles and powers of PCSOs and overall background on PCSOS, is the beneficial for my study as it provides knowledge on PCSOs. However it is not all thumbs up for the PCSOs, as they have come across certain criticism, such as from David Gilbertson “Preventative patrolling, once the jewel in the crown of British policing, has been abandoned [...] to be replaced by an imitation service delivered by semi-trained auxiliaries…”. Gilbertson claims that PCSOs are imitations of police officers, and that the funding for PCSOs should just be used to recruit more police officers, who are fully trained, unlike the PCSOs.
Just like the three research studies showed limitations, there are limitations for the study I intend to carry out. The lack of literature and valid research limits my research; also the lack of time given to conduct the study limits the possibility of gaining valid and reliable results. Even still I wish to carry out the study on PCSOs, to provide more clarity on the topic of PCSOs using the limited literature and studies around. In doing so my study aims to answer gaps overlooked by these scholars; firstly how PCSOs powers have evolved over the course of time, secondly have PCSOs impacted recorded crime whilst on patrol. Finally it aims to answer if such criticisms made by Gilbertson are true or false, by comparing and contrasting studies that have been conducted.
Over this last decade, there has been considerable change in the way in which neighborhood policing is being carried out. One of these changes has been the introduction of the Police Community Support Officers (PCSOs). PCSOs were first introduced in the Police Reform Act 2002 (PRA).
Since the introduction of PCSOs in 2002 there has been much criticism ranging from their, need in the community, to their effectiveness in their roles within society. There are limited resources surrounding the issues of need and effectiveness on PCSOs, this may be due to their relatively recent introduction.
The aims of the research to be conducted will seek to address the following issues in regards to PCSOs:
Aim one - How PCSOs powers have evolved over the course of time
Aim two - Have PCSOs impacted recorded crime whilst on patrol?
Aim three - If criticisms regarding PCSOs effectiveness around their roles within society are true or false, by analyzing the data collected from this study.
The first two aims can be found without the need to gain extra research or independent research. Aim one can be found by simply looking at the literature around on the PCSOs, and aim two will be answered by using the British Crime Survey Statistics on trends in Crime from the year 1981 to 2007.
Crime trends in overall crime will tell what crime levels were, before the PCSOs were enacted, and since their enactment if they have changed. To assess if certain criticism made about PCSOs effectiveness around their roles within society are true or false, this report will collect research surrounding the publics view on PCSOs effectiveness and if the public feel they are needed.
The methods that will be used to gain the necessary data to be analyzed will be questionnaires. The questionnaires will be carried out across the nation in ten cities were PCSOs have been deployed, with a sample size of five hundred people per city. Due to the lack of funding, questionnaires are the best option in obtaining data from the public on if they believe PCSOs are effective. Also the lack of funding would mean it will be hard to carry out a bigger sample size or carry out the questionnaires for more cities. By doing questionnaires the advantages are gaining research quick and effectively.
Disadvantages are respondents will not be able to express their views, data may take a long time to analyze, there could be the possibility of the same respondent answering the same questionnaire and some public members will not be willing to answer the questionnaire. To reduce these issues the questionnaire will have an incentive to attract people to carry out the questionnaire, for example by being put in to a prize draw for an IPod Nano.
Also the questionnaire will ask closed questions, with answers given for respondents to choose from. For example; how often do you see PCSOs on patrol- Most of the time, some of the time, do not see them at all? This will allow for easier analysis of answers and it will be easier to categorize questions onto a graph. The questionnaire will consist of a range of questions that are related to PCSOs, with the main aim to address aim three.
However, before the questionnaire could be conducted, the study hit fatal problems which terminated the possibility of carrying out the questionnaires.
The problem was time and no funding. No funding made it impossible to hire people to carry out the questionnaires and resulted to lack of time for it to carry out research across the nation. This therefore meant that there would not be any research to be analyzed.
Nonetheless this report will address this issue by looking at what studies have been done; it will bring together these studies to answer aim three. It will use the following studies that where done by Cooper et al (2007), Crawford et al (2004) and Hiley (2005).
Cooper et al (2007)
The methods used by Cooper et al (2007) were both quantitative and qualitative to gain research. With the aim; first to provide a national profile on PCSOs in terms of their activities, deployment, designated powers and demographics. The second was to provide indications of the impact PCSOs have on the public, in terms of their levels of reassurance, their perceptions and an understanding of their roles. The final aim was to provide indications of impact PCSOs on low level crime/disorder, incidents and anti social behavior (ASB)
The variety of data collected provided a stronger reliability around their findings as the data collected was of a large capacity. Data on a national level was collected from a survey of forces and a survey of PCSOs, by means of questionnaires. This is very reliable source of research as it done national and can be used as a national piece of evidence.
On a local level three forces where chosen as case studies and from each force four areas were selected for a detailed study. Two of these areas were control areas where PCSOs had not been deployed, and the other two areas were where PCSOs had been deployed for some time. Across the four forces interviews were conducted in police forces to collect data on a wide range of issues including, PCSOs deployment, supervision, training, induction and integration.
The interviews were conducted upon the PCSOs deployed two areas on similar questions. Also data was collected from the control areas after PCSOs were deployed on their impact on crime levels for a two week period. This is reliable as the range of evidence collected is immense, due to the interviews carried out over four different forces. Controls were used, for the data to be compared with, as this is very important.
Crawford et al (2004)
Crawford et al (2004) investigated if PCSOs and other members of the extended police family on how they can have impact on recorded crime. This study was funded by University of Leeds Centre for Criminal Justice Studies. Crawford et al compared trends in crime levels in the cities of Leeds and Bradford, also conducting a study which used a twin site public opinion survey to assess the impact of PCSOs on the public (2004).
Hiley (2005) investigated if the public in the Gedling Borough of Nottingham felt PCSOs were effective. Hiley (2005) conducted its research by interviewing five hundred and one respondents. Sample size was taken at random, and respondents that declined were replaced.
In analyzing these studies the findings of the report aims to answer aim three of the report to be conducted, all three studies are conducted in different regions and collated together can become a reliable source of data. Though it must be noted that each study was carried out in different years may hinder its reliability and validity. Nevertheless these studies are still relevant as they give a picture of the effectiveness of PCSOs at that time period. Another advantage of using these case studies is that information is readily available and modern, so it may still reflect the effectiveness of PCSOs to date.
Chapter 1 - ¬The Police Community Support Officers (PCSOs) and their Functionality
History of the Police Community Support Officers
Roles of Police Community Support Officers
Powers of Police Community Support Officers
This chapter will present an overview of the history, role and powers of the Police Community Support Officers (PCSOs). The history section will look at how and why PCSOs were developed, followed by the explanation of the role and aims of the PCSOs. This chapter finishes of with providing knowledge around the powers of the PCSOs and how they have developed over time.
History of Police Community Support Officers (PCSOs)
It is essential for the reader to become aware of the history behind the development of the PCSOs as it explains how and why this type of service originated.
Initially, police officers out on patrol had many different competing priorities and limited time to provide a swift response to urgent calls. The effect of this limitation of time resulted in many patrols becoming vehicle based and patrol tasks being interrupted by urgent incidents, custody requirements, paperwork, etc. The Neighbourhood Policing Programme 2007, states that there were ‘gaps in policing that bought about a combination of increasing demand and additional requirements on officers and forces’ (Neighbourhood policing programme 2007).
It can be fair to say, that at this point in time the relationship between the police force and the local community may not have been as strong as expected because the prioritisation of tasks left meant some other tasks would not be complete.
The National Evaluation of community support officers found that the public perception confirmed the need of extra support for officers, ‘there are too many calls on police officers time and long term disorder/behaviour issues are not dealt with effectively’(Home Office 2006). Therefore, it had become apparent that the police force clearly required more support in terms of man-power to tackle this time constraint.
The Police Reform Act in 2002 (PRA) revolutionized policing; chief officers across the UK now had PCSOs at their disposal to support police activities (Rogers and Lewis 2007: 125). By 2008 the government anticipated the number of PCSOs would grow substantially from 6,000 to 24,000. (Newburn 2008:156). However, at the end of April 2007, the figures showed that there were 16,000 PCSOs employed (Home Office 2007:33).
In September 2002, pilot schemes across six forces had allowed PCSOs to take to the streets, primarily to provide high visibility patrols and become the eyes and ears of the police (Greater Manchester Police 2009). PCSOs as part of the wider police family had created a significant impact by focusing upon the needs of the local community; engaging with the public and providing reassurance with their uniformed presence. The scheme was hailed a success, later became nationalised across England and Wales as well as in the British Transport Police (Greater Manchester Police 2009).
With this recognition they are now an integral part of Neighbourhood Policing and can contribute towards effective policing. ‘Effective Neighbourhood policing goes a long way to meeting the needs of communities. The role of the PCSO is a vital one as they are very much the visible accessible presence of neighbourhood policing’ (Neighbourhood policing programme 2007).
Roles of Police Community Support Officers
The aim of PCSOs as uniformed staff; was to provide support to the work of police officers and work within the local community. Their objective was to assist police in areas which may require a certain level of police presence. In doing so, they may not necessarily have the expertise of trained police officers, but were able to facilitate by freeing up the time police officers spent on tackling low-level crime and routine tasks.
In 2005, the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) expressed the roles of the PCSO as follows:-
“The policing of neighbourhoods, primarily through high visible patrol with the purpose of reassuring the public, increases orderliness in public places and being accessible to communities and partner agencies working at local level. The emphasis of this role, and the powers required to fulfill it, will vary from neighbourhood to neighbourhood and force to force” (ACPO 2005).
From this it is evident that the main priority was to provide high visibility patrols, dealing with public queries and restoring order within the local community. The West Midlands Police Force confer with these aims and outline the PCSO objectives as follows; to primarily provide high visibility patrols, secondly help reduce the fear of crime, thirdly participate in the police initiative of tackling anti-social behaviour (ASB), fourthly provide support and assistance at public events and finally support the police officers in building and maintaining community relations (West Midlands police 2007).
Ideally as long as PCSOs acted in these key roles as stated by ACPO and the West Midlands Police Force, then they would become successful and effective. One can only become effective if the roles given to them are completed and carried out at high standards. ‘Effectiveness is the ability to achieve stated goals or objectives’ (Environmental Protection Agency 2007). Arguably, it can be difficult to measure effectiveness as there can be limitations which influence the success rate of a task. For example, availability of ‘resources’ and in many cases ‘time’ is a crucial element, and may become a limiting factor.
On the 17th July 2008, the Home Office issued a report regarding the activities undertaken by the PCSO. The report reviewed findings from a study on PSCO activity based on costing data in 2006/7. The results were indicative and notably equated PCSO activity with that defined by the guidance of ACPO (2005). Visible patrols were the most frequent activity carried out by PCSOs in 42 of 43 police forces.
This report also suggested that not all PCSOs across forces spent time or much time upon the remaining listed objectives, which may possibly be an outcome of limiting factors such as time. In some tasks the actual ‘time spent’ may have superseded the ‘expected time’. To conclude, this report suggests that PCSOs were also carrying out extra roles not mentioned by ACPO. The summary of this report is attached in Appendix A.
Retrospectively, it must be made clear to the reader that PCSOs are not sworn police officers as such, neither are they a replacement. They are a branch of modern day policing whose purpose is to provide that needed extra support to police officers. This can only mean that the powers allocated to PCSOs are limited to their purpose of serving the local community.
Powers of Police Community Support Officers
The functionality and effectiveness of PCSOs can be maintained with allocation of certain ‘powers’. This section will debate the powers given to PCSOs and discuss why these have evolved over the years. Initially, as outlined by PRA 2002, Chief Officers of each of the police force regions had the choice of selecting appropriate powers to implement their individual force initiatives alongside meeting the needs of the local community.
’...Section 38 of the PRA enables a Chief Officer to designate an individual employed by the police authority but under his/her authority discretion and control as a PCSO and confer upon them any powers listed in Part 1 of Schedule 4 to the PRA...’ (Clayden, 2006:40)
This suggested that there was no standardization or common ground for powers allocated to PCSOs across the United Kingdom (U.K). PCSOs in different forces would have had different powers to deal with certain incidents. Therefore, this meant PCSOs in different forces, would have powers in dealing with certain incidents whereas others would lack the powers to deal with those incidents.
For example, in 2006 the Chief Constable of Surrey police allocated different powers to PCSOs in different areas. The PCSOs in the area of Guildford Borough had the power to issue a Fixed Penalty notice (FPN) for littering. Where as the PCSOs in the area of Ash Wharf where given a different power, the power to issue a FPN for Graffiti and Fly posting (Surrey Police, 2006). It must be noted that these different powers may only help PCSOs tackle targeted crime for each area specifically.
On the other hand this can also become a problem for PCSOs, since there is a difference in the selection of powers for PCSOs in areas and regions. If a person was to commit a graffiti offence in the area of Guildford Borough then the PCSOs located there would have no power to issue FPN for this crime, since the PCSOs in that area have not been allocated that power.
Furthermore if someone was littering in the area of Ash Wharf, then the PCSOs located in this area do not have the power to issue a FPN for littering. Additionally, the difference in selection of powers can lead to confusion and debate regarding the role of the PCSO, which in turn reflects their effectiveness. The BBC news website on the 6th of December 2005 read
‘Police Community Support Officers, hailed as future of policing in London, are at the centre of a row about their role’ (BBC News, 2005)
A standard set of powers would help to understand what PCSOs can and can not do, which in turn may help clarify their roles to the local community to whom they serve.
In addition, it is crucial that the public becomes clear of the capabilities and powers of a PCSO, so that they are not overestimated. Overestimating the PCSOs powers and abilities can have devastating results, as it was in the heartbreaking case of Jordon Lyon on May the 3rd 2007 in Wigan (BBC News, 2007). This case saw two PCSOs being branded in the media for being incapable to save or attempt to save a drowning child in the pond, simply because they did not have water rescue training. The Times Newspaper on September 2007 headlined,
“Failure to save drowning boy prompts calls to scrap ‘community’ police” (Times online, 2007)
Though, unlike the PCSOs in Wigan, in Watford on 22nd October 2007 two PCSOs saved the life of a drowning woman in a canal in Watford (Watford Observer 2007). Clearly these two similar incidents raise confusion over the power of the PCSOs. Moreover these incidents could confuse people around the PCSOs capabilities, do they have water rescue training or not, what can they do? What can they not do? In one case the PCSO has the power and the capabilities to save a persons life preventing them from drowning and in another case they seem incapable and powerless in saving someone from drowning. PCSOs powers at this stage are not clear and seem to be questionable, which need to be dealt with.
Five years on from their introduction and in response to the confusion over the role of PCSOs: from 1st of December 2007 PCSOs were set 20 standard powers and an additional 22 powers accessible to them at the discretion of the chief constable(Smith 2008:17). A full list of the standard and discretionary powers is set out in Appendix B; the list was obtained from the Home Office website (Home Office 2007). The enactment of these standardised powers will mean a more consistent role for PCSOs nationwide.
It provides PCSOs with the tools to deal with low-level disorder and anti-social behaviour and to contribute effectively to local policing. However, there are still 22 powers that can be allocated by the Chief Constable which can cause a lack of consistency in PCSOs powers within different communities. Nonetheless, it is apparent from Louise Casey’s Engaging Communities in Fighting Crime (2008) that there is still some amount of confusion surrounding the powers allocated to PCSOs. If there is still a degree of confusion then there is a need for further clarity.
“PCSO Powers ‘Confuse’ People” (The Sun, 2008)
Therefore it is recommended that an evaluation of both standard and discretionary list of powers be carried out to ascertain precisely what powers are most effective for PCSOs. From these results a new set of standard powers should be made available and the selection of discretionary powers should be eradicated. Chief Officers across regions should all be given the same new standard set of powers to allocate to all PCSOs. Regardless of their agenda to tackle any particular crime in an area or region, this will enable PCSOs to deal with a wider diverse range of issues nationwide and make communities safer.
This chapter concentrates upon making the reader aware of the introduction and evolution of PCSOs. This chapter has covered three central areas; the history, roles and powers of PCSOs. The history of PCSOs reveals how the PCSOs became the supportive unit of policing from the introduction of the Police Reform Act in 2002 (PRA). The recognition of the successful effectiveness of PCSOs within the local community increased the recruitment drive and by April 2007 there was 16,000 PCSOs across regions in the UK.
The next section highlights the key roles of the PCSO and certain limits imposed by ACPO. The key roles of the PCSO were to; provide high visibility patrols, prevent crime, participate in police initiative to tackle ASB, support and assist in public events and also to support police officers in building and maintaining community relations.
The final section debated the allocation of powers given out by Chief of Police in different forces and the confusion it has caused. There have been cases since 2002 when PCSOs were first introduced which caused confusion surrounding the powers PCSOs have. Over time, the powers are being standardised over most police forces, to avoid further confusions. Clearly this aspect is a work in progress.
Chapter 2 - The Police Community Support Officers (PCSOs) on Patrol.
What Police Community Support Officers do on patrol?
What Police Community Support Officers may deal with on patrol?
The effect of the Police Community Support Officers patrols on communities?
High visibility patrols were the first key role identified of the PCSOs by ACPO and Police Forces in chapter one. The aim of this chapter is to identify if high visibility patrols by the PCSOs are effective. It will serve as a brief insight into the patrol of PCSOs, by giving the reader an idea of what PCSOs do and deal with while on patrol. Finally it will debate whether the PCSOs patrol has contributed to decreasing crime over the years, by looking at trends on crime in the British crime survey (BCS).
What Police Community Support Officers do on patrol?
This section of the chapter will explore what the PCSOs may do on patrol and other positive outcomes of the PCSOs high visibility patrol can provide. Therefore, this section provides more background information regarding the PCSOs.
PCSOs on patrol spend the majority of their time communicating with the public, as well as patrolling the community; as a result making their presence noticed. PCSOs interact with the local community introducing themselves to local shops and businesses. Ivy Gregory, 74, who lives in The Circle of Swindon talking about how there is not much trouble and said “…You do see more police than you used to and speaking to others it seems to have quietened down…" (PCSOs National 2006) This interaction with the community, allows the PCSO on patrol to get to know the community and the community to get to know the PCSO, creating a mutual respect and an understanding for each other. ‘PCSOs are most effective when they know a neighbourhood, its people, its social networks, the geographic layout and its organisations’ (Public Service 2007).
In addition, by interacting with the community PCSOs are becoming a familiar figure and are contributing to safer neighbourhoods. The public will be assured the community is safer because they know the PCSOs are patrolling their streets and acting as a deterrent towards criminals. PCSO Bennion said within an article in the Dailypost that “...It’s a very important role and I know the people I speak to every day value what we do...” (Dailypost 2009).
The PCSOs high visibility patrol clearly allows them to contribute towards other roles such as the communicating to the community, which is just as important as patrolling. Whilst patrolling the streets, PCSOs are making themselves available if any incidents occur, also if any citizen has any queries they are able to ask the PCSOs on street patrols. It is evident that PCSOs are highly accessible to the community.
Moreover with building community relations, PCSOs are in a better position to gather intelligence from within the community. ‘PCSOs are quickly and deservedly becoming known as the 'eyes and ears' of their community’ (Public Service 2007). Gathering intelligence can help police officers tackle other serious crime such as drug dealing. As was the case in Hartlepool, where the information PCSO Karl Gippert gathered, led to the execution of a successful drug operation (Peterlee Mail 2008).
This operation successfully seized 165 cannabis plants which were believed to have a street value of up to one hundred thousand pounds. Pc Chris Stonehouse stated in the same article in Peterlee Mail “This was an intelligence-led operation after police received information from the community support officer” (Peterlee Mail 2008). The case just shows how important it is that PCSOs patrol communities and how beneficial information gathering from the community can be. Innes (2004) described PCSOs gathering information as ‘community intelligence conduits’ meaning PCSOs are a way in which information is channeled from the community to police.
Additionally PCSOs can further engage with the community thanks to their diverse ethnic recruitment. Over fourteen percent of PCSOs are from ethnic backgrounds compared to the three and half percent of police officers (Home Office 2006:5). This allows PCSOs to engage and communicate with more ethnic minorities’, which may previously have been seen hard to reach.
On the other hand these statistics could also indicate that if the police force were to increase their ethnic minority recruitment then they also would be able to engage with the community better. If this were to happen then it would seem obvious the need for PCSOs may be reduced. Although it must be remembered the role of the PCSOs is not to replace police officers but to allow police officers to tackle more serious crime as mentioned in chapter one, so there is an evident need for them to exist.
However, PCSOs on patrol must remember to ensure that they are not being unprofessional, which some PCSOs have been doing. On June 1st 2008 two Christian preachers, Arthur Cunningham and Joseph Abraham, were berated by a PCSO. According to both preachers the PCSO had said, “He said we were in a Muslim area and were not allowed to spread our Christian message. He said we were committing a hate crime by telling the youths to leave Islam and said that he was going to take us to the police station” (Telegraph 2008).
Although, the PCSOs that patrols those streets on a daily basis would know that such action by preachers would spark out violence from the community and took action to stop an incident taking place. Nevertheless, the way in which the PCSO came across may indicate that PCSOs are in need of training in areas of hate crimes, communication and the monitoring of PCSOs time spent in assigned areas may be in need. Monitoring these levels possibly ensures that an on going feeling of confidence is imposed on the communities in which PCSOs work.
Nonetheless, PCSOs high visibility patrol has a very positive effect on the communities; their patrols have bought about other positives’ such as placing themselves in a good position to deal with incidents that may occur in the community. However on the other hand PCSOs must remain professional whilst on patrol and not draw negative attention which would undermine the PCSOs establishment. The next section of this chapter will briefly look at the main incident PCSOs would have to deal with whilst on patrol.
What Police Community Support Officers may deal with on patrol?
This section of the chapter briefly outlines the main issues facing PCSOs on foot patrol; the section will not elaborate upon this topic in too much detail. It is intended to just allow the reader to have an understanding of what the PCSOs may face and tackle on patrol.
One of the most pressing issues facing communities would have to be anti-social behaviour (ASB), this is because responding to ASB costs government agencies in England and Wales around 3.4 billion pounds a year. (Home Office 2004: 9)
ASB as stated in the Crime and Disorder Act (CDA) 1998 is ‘Acting in a manner that caused or was likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress to one or more persons not of the same household as the defendant’. This definition given in the CDA is broad and enables for a variety of behaviours to be contained by it. The definition can be seen as suitable because it was noted by the Home Office review on ‘Defining and Measuring Anti-Social Behaviour’, that different people had different perceptions of what constituted as ASB and which may have been due to certain reason including locality, quality of life expectations’, community tolerance and context (Home Office 2004: 3).
Due to this ASB covers a range of complex thoughtless, inconsiderate or malicious activities which perhaps has the greatest potential to blight the quality of community life. ASB is split into three types (Home Office 2009) which are street problems, environmental crime and nuisance neighbours. Each type of ASB has its own range of behaviours that contribute to ASB. A few examples are vandalism, aggressive begging, being abusive and intimidating behaviour (Leicestershire City Council 2008)
However nearly all ASB problems are not classed as criminal offences and neither are they reported in crimes in surveys, making it hard to determine if ASB is decreasing or increasing. Nevertheless one particular ASB, Vandalism, is classed as a crime and is included within crime surveys. Vandalism alone costs UK businesses £620m a year (UK Net Guide 2006); this just shows the extent of damage one of the forms of ASB can have on local communities.
It was noted in chapter one that participating in police initiatives to tackle ASB is one of the roles facing PCSOs, which may entail dealing with ASB on street patrols. PCSOs have the power to hand out FPN for certain acts of ASB, for example the power to issue a Fixed Penalty Notice (FPN) for littering (littering is classed as ASB act in the Environmental Crime category).
These FPN’s do not contribute to crime detection, neither are they included in crime surveys or recorded in ways that can analyse if PCSOs are impacting ASB. However, police officers in some forces have found the role of the PCSOs dealing with ASB as an important role, for example a Basic Command Unit (BCU) commander listing the problems PCSOs dealt with said:
“....general yobbish behaviour you know, people finding kids kicking around, making life difficult for them. And they’ve gone and tackled that and they’ve seen a big difference...” (Home Office 2006: 11). PCSOs on patrol may have to deal with ASB which is commonly committed by youths and they have been seen to be effective with tackling ASB according to the BCU commander.
In addition it was noted, in the National Evaluation of Community Support Officers in 2006, that the most common powers that were used by PCSOs, was requiring the names of those behaving in an anti-social way and confiscating alcohol from those aged under 18 (Home Office 2006: 11). From this report it can be taken that PCSOs are exercising most of their power to tackle issues of ASB, with the common problem being youths drinking alcohol.
On the other hand, PCSOs must target those areas in communities which are crime hot spots. PCSOs need to continuously patrol the same area, to become familiar with the community. Seeing the same people on daily basis, allows PCSOs to stamp their presence in that particular community. In doing so they can reduce ASB by acting as a deterrent and handing out FPNs to those that are committing ASB acts. Additionally PCSOs become more recognised, interact with people and gain their trust, which is required to overcome low level crime.
“They go to the same areas, they know where these young people are, they become friends with them, they’ve built up the trust and the only way you do that is the time that they’ve got to be visible. To be there and know where they all congregate.” (Union representative)
PCSOs would be more successful when sent to targeted areas, where there are a lot of ASB issues on the streets. Effective neighbourhood policing goes along way as it meets the needs of communities.
The effect of the Police Community Support Officers patrols on communities?
The two sections before this looked at what PCSOs did on patrol and what they may have dealt with whilst on patrol. This section assesses, since the PCSOs inception, if there has been a decrease in crime levels.
Since PCSOs can not arrest criminals or solve crimes it may be taken that PCSOs do not contribute towards crime detection within the United Kingdom (U.K), therefore it would seem pointless to compare crime statistics. However, due to PCSOs high visible patrols, PCSOs intelligence gathering and their visible presence are acting as a deterrent to criminals.
It would be expected that this would at least have some sort of impact upon certain crime statistics. For that reason this section simply compares overall incidents of crime and the increase or decrease in trend trough the years in the BCS survey. In this way it can be analyzed, that since the inception of PCSOs and their community patrols have crime rates decreased?
This section will be using the British Crime Survey (BCS), not the Police record of crime rates, because the BCS measures the amount of crime in England and Wales by questioning the public about crimes they have experienced and also includes crimes that are not recorded by the police.
Using this survey would be more ideal to critically evaluate whether or not the PCSOs on patrol have affected crime rates, because it shows unreported crime as well as reported crime. A full spreadsheet of BCS crime statistics on the trends in crime from 1981 to 2007/08 can be found in appendix C.
The BCS overall incidents of crime statistics do not show all crimes committed such as murder or rape, nevertheless it shows crimes one can expect to happen within communities and ASB related crimes that PCSOs may tackle whilst on patrol, for example vandalism, theft and violent crime. The overall incidents of crime statistic for vandalism as it can be seen from appendix C, has steadily increased towards the year 1995 and then steadily decreases towards the year 2003. However vandalism crime does start to increase after the year 2003 and has been on the increase since. PCSOs were not introduced until the year 2002 so the statistics show that vandalism was decreasing without the need for the PCSO and since introduction vandalism crime has started to increase again.
This increase in vandalism can be due to the PCSOs on the street being able to see more crime and report more crime to police officers. On the other hand it could just be that vandalism campaigns such as the one launched in Borough of Poole on the 12th of May 1999 (Borough of Poole 2009), which intended to educate the public in what constitute as vandalism can potentially increase public awareness. Such campaigns may lead to the increase in vandalism crime reported as the public is more aware of what vandalism is than they where before.
The overall incidents of crime reported for Burglary, vehicle related theft, bicycle theft and other household theft are very similar, but have a different trend compared to vandalism. The crime statistics’ for these shows there is an increase in each crime towards the year 1999, and then its crime rates start to decrease from the year 2001/02 onwards in a decreasing manner. This may be due to the PCSOs introduction and their high visible patrols, whilst on patrol PCSOs are acting as a deterrent for burglars and criminals; therefore meaning that less of these crimes would be committed.
Although the decrease in burglary crime could be due to recent police initiatives’ in increasing public awareness on avoiding theft related crime or burglary. There have been many newsletters handed out by the police forces, for example the latest newsletter on burglary in London gave advice to the public on how to avoid being burgled. ‘However, by locking windows and doors before you leave the house or go to bed, and leaving the keys out of sight you can greatly reduce the risk of your home being burgled’ (Metropolitan Police 2009)
The overall crime reported for violence fluctuates towards the year 1999, but then is on a decreasing trend from the year 2001/02 onwards. PCSOs do not have the power to arrest a person for causing a crime. However PCSOs can intervene in situations and diffuse them before they spiral out into violence. Spokesman Derek Winsor of, a former magistrate made statement about PCSOs “... They have the uniform as well, and just walking up to a group can be enough to diffuse a situation. ...” (Police Community Support Officer 2003).
It could be these actions by the PCSOs that have started the decreasing trend in violence related crimes. Arguably, it could be claimed that the decrease in violence related crime is due to certain police operations in different police forces in tackling violent crime. Recently on the 3rd of August 2009 the police launched ‘Operation Undercard’ in the London Borough of Redbridge (This Is London 2009), with one of its aims to reduce violent crimes. Such operations can also be why violence related crime has decreased. One week into the operation a police spokesman stated, “The on-going operation which started last week has already shown a decrease in most serious violence with little being reported” (This Is London 2009).
On the whole it is not clear whether or not it can be proved that the decrease in certain crimes is due to the PCSOs patrol or the introduction of the PCSO. Nevertheless one thing is for certain that since their enactment there has been a significant decrease in crime rates, which may indicate the PCSOs and their patrols are effective in communities.
The introduction of PCSOs in 2002 was to allow police officers the time to tackle more serious crime as mentioned in chapter 1. How the PCSOs manage to do this by patrolling, is what this chapter is about. The first section of this chapter explains what PCSOs may do on patrol, and the positive outcomes. High visibility patrols by the PCSOs, has had a major impact for the PCSOs to allowing their presence to be known within the community.
PCSOs gain the communities’ confidence, as they are being seen more around their areas. By doing this they are able to interact with the community better, build bridges and gain trust and mutual understanding, overall to become a familiar face within the community. This mutual understanding between the PCSOs and the community can lead to the community providing the PCSOs with vital information to overcome certain crimes.
The second section invites the reader to understand what the PCSOs may have to tackle on their patrols. Anti-Social Behaviour (ASB) is the main issue PCSOs have to deal with on patrol. PCSOs hand out fixed penalty notices (FPN) to those committing ASB within the community. The term ASB, it is defined differently in each area; an ASB in one area may never happen in another area. PCSOs have lack of power, are unable to arrest a person, but are still able to fulfill their role, by targeting crime such as ASB. PCSOs need to target high crime areas, also areas where there may be a variety of crimes taking place, assuming the PCSOs have been trained appropriately, and the effectiveness of the PCSOs will be maximized.
The third section of this chapter looks at since the introduction of PCSOs, have they impacted to crime levels. Initially crime levels should have decreased, however due to the possibility of PCSOs being on patrol more, the community may have gained more faith and trust in the police and are reporting the crimes more, as they are being dealt with more. The public may have been under the impression that low level crime will not be dealt with, or will take a lot of time, therefore not reporting the crime altogether. Despite the claims made by others it is very difficult to pinpoint if there has been a decrease in certain crimes purely because of the PCSOs. Nevertheless one thing is for certain that since their enactment there has been a significant decrease in crime rates, which may indicate the PCSOs and their patrols are effective in communities.
Chapter 3 – Gilbertson perspective on PCSOs against studies
Gilbertson vs. Case Studies
Ever since the introduction of PCSOs they have encountered a great deal of criticism and undermining remarks surrounding their effectiveness. Criticism has varied from being dismissed as ‘policing on the cheap’, debated in an article in the Evening Telegraph (Evening Telegraph 2007), to headlining ‘PCSOs branded powerless’ in the Lancashire Evening Post (Encyclopedia 2007). In the Evening telegraph, PCSOs are stereotyped as ‘policing on the cheap’ because of the lack of ‘major’ training to deal with ‘major’ incidents.
In contrast, ACPO in chapter one, expresses the objectives of PCSOs as to providing high visibility patrols with the interest of public reassurance and orderliness. To deal with ‘major’ incidents was not a specific outlined requirement for PCSOs. Does this then mean that the public within local neighbourhoods have accepted the fact that PCSOs are replacements for real police officers? In doing so, the expectations from the PCSOs by the public will be relatively high. Therefore, it would be highly recommended that local neighbourhoods become aware of the roles, powers and the limitations of PCSOs.
This chapter will seek to address a particular statement made by David Gilbertson, a former Metropolitan Police Commander, who attacks the credibility of PCSOs. It will critically analyse this statement against case studies that have been conducted around the subject of PCSOs. Outline, whether such statements and criticisms made by Gilbertson are true and if the public domain feels PCSOs are effective.
Gilbertson vs. Case Studies
In February 2007 David Gilbertson a former Metropolitan Police Commander, wrote an article for police review in which he delivered this substantial judgment:-
“Preventative patrolling, once the jewel in the crown of British policing, has been abandoned [...] to be replaced by an imitation service delivered by semi-trained auxiliaries...” (Gilbertson 2007:2)
This acidulating remark on PCSOs as ‘semi-trained auxiliaries’, has been mirrored by a few members of the police force. In branding PCSOs as ‘semi-trained auxiliaries’, this statement implies that PCSOs lack the necessary training to carry out patrols adequately. Consequently, it will be fair to say that ‘inadequate training leads onto ineffectiveness within the local community’. Possibly, Gilbertson makes this claim without considerations of any proof in order to defend his fellow police officers who he thinks are being replaced. In addition, fascinatingly enough without any conclusive evidence, Gilbertson also claims that he knows what the vast majority of the public want in terms of policing.
“Vast majority of people want real police officers not auxiliaries, in their local neighbourhoods” (Gilbertson 2007: 27)
This comment shows Gilbertson believes the public would prefer ‘real police officers’ rather than PCSOs, hinting that the public find them unacceptable. Certain police authorities have clearly expressed the same views as Gilbertson. In December 2004, the Hampshire Police Authority refused to have any PCSOs at all. The Chair of the Police Authority in Hampshire commented that if there was any extra money to be given from the Home Office, ‘we would prefer to spend it on proper officers’ (Police Review 2004: 6).
It is these judgments with the intention of stating that PCSOs cannot exist in their own right, with a distinct role and be effective, which clearly is the heart of the problem. According to a police authority in Hampshire, PCSOs can only ever be secondary to police officers. In contrast, it is evident from findings by the British Crime Survey (BCS) in chapter two that crime rates in local neighbourhoods have decreased since their introduction. It is some authorities and some police officers views on PCSOs that give rise to doubt about the PCSOs effectiveness, without using concrete evidence to back their views.
On the other hand a study conducted by the Kent police force showed that Kent PCSOs were not a having an impact on crime reduction. In this study it was concluded that in high crime areas, PCSOs were not the best way to tackle anti social behaviour (Harrington et al 2006). This study verifies the Gilbertson claim of PCSOs being ‘semi-trained auxiliaries’ and ineffective in dealing with ‘preventative patrolling’.
The chairman of Kent police authority, Ian Pointon, also expressed similar views as Gilbertson, by stating ‘that money should be spent on real police officers’ (Telegraph 2008). However, can one study showing PCSOs in a negative light really be taken as evidence that PCSOs can not exist in their own right , with a distinct role and be effective.
Other studies have been conducted across the U.K by other Police authorities. These studies show that PCSOs have contributed a lot towards crime reduction. A case study in Cremorne in November 2004 reported crime was down to 28% and street crime was down to 25%, several months after the introduction of PCSOs (RBKC Direct 2005).
Although the council of Cremorne can not prove for definite that the reduction in crime is due to the PCSOs. However, statistics indicate the positive impact PCSOs have had upon crime, as the crime rate has dropped significantly since their inception. Therefore, it can be noted that PCSOs have impacted immensely in Cremorne and are effective in local communities in which they are deployed.
Gilbertson did also claim that he knew what the ‘vast majority’ of the public would want in terms of policing, but studies have contradicted what he claims and support PCSOs being accepted. A study conducted in West Yorkshire in 2004 proved that PCSOs are a popular innovation within the community. This study was a twin site public opinion survey carried out by Adam Crawford in the city centre of Leeds and Bradford. Crawford’s results showed from the people questioned, 69% perceived an increase in officers patrolling the streets (Crawford et al 2004).
Also from those questioned, 40% saw a PCSO at least once a day and 96% of them people who saw a PCSO at least once a day, reported high levels of satisfaction with how their problems had been dealt with (Crawford et al 2004). Furthermore, 82% of the general public questioned agreed that the presence of visible patrol personnel makes the city more welcoming to shoppers and visitors (Crawford et al 2004).
This concluded that PCSOs have verified that they are able to deliver effective patrols and engage with different communities without the need for the full range of powers vested in constables (Crawford et al 2004). It must be noted that this is the opinion of two cities on the PCSOs, not the entire nation, but can act as evidence towards determining public acceptance on PCSOs.
A different study at the other end of the country about the PCSOs effectiveness was conducted in Nottingham by the Gedling Borough Council. The full report can be found within appendix D. This report showed that 41.9% of respondents did however find them quite effective or very effective (Hiley 2008). From the 41.9% of respondents, a hundred and twelve of these respondents who found PCSOs to be effective said it was due to there visibility and presence, thirty eight respondents said PCSOs were a good crime deterrent.
However, this study went further and had results in favour of Gilbertson claims, the study asked respondents from an option of three which course of action they would support to be done for PCSOs, 33.5% said they would rather have the council pay for six police officers in addition to the number the government pay for (Hiley 2008). Even though this can support claims of public needs for ‘real’ police, this is a small minority of the public questioned that answered this and it is unrepresentative. Therefore it could be seen that the majority of the public are however in favour of PCSOs.
Overall PCSOs are impacting the communities and the majority of the public have accepted PCSOs as the studies in West Yorkshire and Nottingham show. Even though in some regions of the U.K, such as Kent, the PCSOs effectiveness is minute, however their effectiveness on the whole throughout the U.K can be seen in the other studies. The statistics in Cermorne show that they do impact crime since their introduction, and just proves ridiculous claims made by Gilbertson and other police authorities are false.
Chapter 4 - Conclusion and Recommendations
The Police Reform Act 2002 introduced a new breed of officers, primarily with a distinct role to provide high visible patrols and reassure the public. However, ever since PCSOs inception there has been criticism varying from their, need in the community, to their effectiveness in their roles within society.
This report aimed to find if there is a need for the PCSOs and if they are effective in their roles within society. The report predicted that PCSOs are needed and are effective in their distinct role of providing high visible patrols and reassuring the public.
In order to find the answer to this prediction there were three main aims set out by this report and they were;
Aim One: How PCSOs powers have evolved over the course of time
Aim Two: Have PCSOs impacted recorded crime whilst on Patrol
Aim Three: To find if an unpleasant claim, made by Gilbertson, is true or false by comparing and contrasting studies that have been conducted.
The report intended to carry out its own research that would have been analyzed, however due to no funding it could not carry out its intended research method. Therefore this report turned towards the limited literature and case studies that have been conducted around the PCSOs. In order to gain the necessary information to address the above stated aims.
This report was presented in three key chapters, each chapter addressed an aim. Chapter one addressed aim one, it found that there was a need for PCSOs. PCSOs supported police officers in their role to provid
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