Impact of Police Community Support Officers
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Published: Mon, 12 Feb 2018
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’
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