Should Police Forces Rely on More PCSOs?
Police Community Support Officers are members of the police force, and are employed by the police department. However, they are not regular police officers. The role of PCSO is unique in that it is specially created to tackle community disruptions such as anti-social behaviour, and other matters related to the quality of community life such as littering, illegal tipping etc. As such, although they are employed by the local police force, PCSOs are civilian police patrollers or officers that support the police force by patrolling the streets and tackling various community issues.
In terms of the powers they have, PCSOs are far behind police constables or officers. PCSOs have the power to confiscate tobacco and alcohol from underage members of the public, they are also able to direct pedestrian and motor traffic, move abandoned vehicles, issuing fixed penalty notices in certain situations, and entering private property to save life and property.
PCSOs do not possess some key powers that police officers enjoy such as the power to arrest anyone, or interview prisoners. At the moment, PCSOs do not have the power to arrest a person above and beyond what an ordinary member of the public would be entitled to do. However, under the Terrorism Act of 2000, PCSOs can ask members of public for their name and address, and if refused can detain a person for up to 30 minutes before a police officer arrives. PCSOs also carry out awareness and education work by working in partnership with schools and community leaders.
In recent times, as with most public services, the police force too has faced unprecedented cuts. Numbers of police officers and constables is sharply on the decline due to the severe austerity measures. At the same time, PCSOs whose role is to support the police force are equipped with few powers. At a time when the police force needs as much support from its entire staff as possible, should PCSOs be given more powers that would, arguably, make them more effective as the keepers of peace and order in the community?
Amidst talks of bringing private security firms into policing, the question simply begs to be asked: does it make sense to bring private agencies into the police force, when members of staff are available but lack the powers to be able to support officers fully? Would it perhaps make more sense if police forces were able to rely more on PCSOs, and would this require PCSOs to have more powers? These are questions that must be asked at a time like this.
Critics have long maintained that PCSOs are not given sufficient training, and indeed a sufficient level of autonomy to able to offer any real support. Effective law enforcement within local communities can be brought about through grassroots education with community groups; and through police staff on the ground that have the proper powers to maintain peace and order.
PCSOs provide an additional layer of support for police officers and are in place to enable the police force to perform their duties in the local community effectively. As such, PCSOs are not meant to undermine the power of police officers, or replace the need for officers, but rather to be able to support officers in the best possible way.