The Big Read: Have PCSOs been a success?

Nadia Norman and Michael Roche chat to the public in Kettering
Nadia Norman and Michael Roche chat to the public in Kettering

Police teams have praised the role of PCSOs within the force as they mark a decade since they first took to the streets in Northamptonshire.

Police Community Support Officers were introduced by the Labour Government in 2002 in a bid to increase the visible uniformed presence.

The first of the PCSOs in our county, who were part of a pilot scheme in Daventry and South Northants, went on patrol for the first time in March 2003.

But PCSOs faced an early barrage of hostility, with critics branding them as an ineffective “plastic police”.

Distinguishable from police officers courtesy of their blue T-shirts and hat bands, PCSOs are now a common sight on the streets of our towns.

Sgt Julie Mead from Kettering’s safer community team paid tribute to PCSOs, saying their role within the community was invaluable to the police.

“It was a major change, one of the biggest changes in the last 20 years,” she said.

“It was difficult with all the negative publicity at the time, but now they are established, they have clear roles and responsibilities.

“They have really integrated into the service.

“They are absolutely fantastic, we couldn’t function without the work they do.”

There are 66 PCSOs in the four local authority areas in the north of the county. There are 22 in Kettering, 15 each in Corby and Wellingborough and 14 in East Northants.

Funding is split between borough councils, the county council and the police.

In 2012-13, Kettering Council provided £116,200 towards the cost of PCSOs while Wellingborough and Corby councils spent £49,800 each. East Northants council does not provide any funding to support PCSOs in the district, nor has it ever done so.

Unlike a police constable, police community support officers do not have powers of arrest and cannot interview prisoners.

Their role is primarily to liaise with the community, giving advice, information and reassurance to members of the public.

They also help with door-to-door inquiries after some crimes.

Police commissioner Adam Simmonds, who said his budget was designed to ensure he did not have to cut PCSO numbers, has also suggested he wants to increase PCSO powers.

And Kettering MP Philip Hollobone said that PCSO sceptics – including many in his own party – had been proved wrong.

He said: “Over the last 10 years PCSOs have proved their worth.

“They do lots of community-based activities and get involved in police work that frees up the time of fully powered police officers so they have got the ability to do more themselves.

“They have increased the visibility of policing.

“It would be difficult today to think of a police force without them.

“The PCSOs we have are well-known and are plugged into their neighbourhoods.”

Wellingborough Council leader Cllr Paul Bell agreed, saying: “PCSOs provide an incredibly important service to the people in our borough.

“They are a reassuring uniformed presence on our streets and do invaluable work in our communities.

“They deal with low level crime and have played a huge part in the reduction of anti-social behaviour in the areas they cover.”

Northamptonshire Police’s Chief Constable Adrian Lee has also paid tribute to the role of PCSOs over the last 10 years, describing them as a vital part of the policing family.

He added: “Their core role is to be the visible and available presence in our communities and those very communities have told us how much they appreciate the work of the PCSOs and their close contact with them.”

We try to earn trust

Well-known local PCSOs have spoken about where their responsibilities lie.

Michael Roche, who patrols in Kettering, said it was important to get to know people and win their trust.

“It’s about meeting young people, educating them,” he said. “It’s about building that relationship.

“It’s about getting everyone in the community involved and getting them to take responsibility for their area as well.

“Every day we are asked by the police, ‘Do you know this person?’, and you can guarantee someone will from the PCSOs because we are dealing with them. It makes a huge difference.”

His colleague Nadia Norman said: “Anti-social behaviour escalates into damage, neighbour disputes escalate into fights in the street.

“It’s our job to stop it before it escalates, before it gets so criminal it’s taken away from community work.”

She also admitted: “You still get the odd comment of ‘hobby bobby’, but a lot of people are coming up to us and saying, ‘You are one of those PCSOs’. It shows people see us as working within the police family rather than as fake officers.”

Asked why she wanted to be a PCSO, Lynn McShannon said: “I wanted to do something completely different.

“I was stuck behind a desk in an office, I wasn’t getting any fulfilment. I wanted something different that would give something back.”

Readers supportive

The Telegraph asked readers on Facebook to give their opinion on PCSOs, and the responses were overwhelmingly positive.

Margaret Docherty James said: “It’s great to see them in the community. They do a good, if difficult job so let’s give them some appreciation.”

Dave Chapman agreed, saying: “PCSOs do a great job of giving a visible police presence and deal with the lower priority stuff like poor/dangerous parking. Given their limited powers it is a big thumbs up from me.”

Alison Brackenbury added: “Having a community-based officer is a brilliant idea, children learn to trust and respect their

PCSO. They are approachable and friendly.

“If anything, I would say that we need more of them.”

Nick Shipton said: “I have worked with many PCSOs in Kettering and most have been fine and go beyond the call of duty.

“However, there are others that need managing properly as they have become way too comfortable with avoiding work.”

PCSO Angie Steele said: “I’m sorry if people feel we are a waste of time. Are we a waste of time when we move the lads kicking your fence in or being cheeky to you?”