Role of Police Community Support Officers in Cambridgeshire


Wednesday, March 5th, 2014. 10:09am

Cambridgeshire Police PCSOs in Whittlesea

Cambridgeshire Police PCSOs in Whittlesea


At the February 2014 Police and Crime Panel meeting Cambridgeshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner Graham Bright presented plans to continue reducing the number of Police Community Support Officers employed by Cambridgeshire Police. Commissioner Bright is planning to have 150 PCSOs in 2014/15 (see paragraph 6.3 of his budget report); that’s a reduction from 180 in 2013/14. In March 2010 the force employed 210 PCSOs.

I think Police and Crime Commissioner Graham Bright is doing the right thing by reducing the numbers of PCSOs while trying to maintain Police Constable numbers; I think he needs to do more to ensure the public understand why he is doing this, and ensure he explains why he considers PCs better value for money than PCSOs.

The Cambridge News article published an article the 5th of March 2014 headlined: Branded ‘plastic police’, Cambridgeshire PCSOs here to stay after groundbreaking review – but are they worth it?. I have looked for the report on the review which prompted the article on both the police website and the Police and Crime Commissioner’s website but it does not appear to have been made publicly available.

I have made a Freedom of Information request for the final report of the recently concluded review into the role of PCSOs led by Chief Inspector James Sutherland.

I am quoted in the Cambridge News article. My full comments from which the quote was taken were:

I would much rather see police resources spent employing officers with the full powers of a Police Constable rather than Police Community Support Officers who don’t have the powers to, for example, arrest people or deal with motoring offences. A PCSO can be paid about the same as a PC and we get more for our money with a PC.

I don’t think we ought give our PCSOs more powers, but instead we should make a shift towards employing more constables. Those PCSOs who are capable of exercising the powers of a constable should become constables.

PCSOs are popular with some people because they are the only sign of any policing they see on a regular basis. Having people walking around in florescent jackets is a very expensive and inefficient way of providing reassurance that an area is being policed. I’d much rather see the police providing that reassurance by improving their call answering performance and ensuring they are in a position to rapidly respond in a proportionate manner when they are called upon.

Many people have seen, and in some cases, met their local PCSOs, so they can get the feeling they are going to lose something if we make a shift back to PCs, this isn’t necessarily the case if those PCSOs who are able and willing become constables and if we see changes to the way policing is managed.

Technology improvements allowing PCs to spend more time outside of police stations, as well as restructuring so we have more PCs, fewer higher ranking officers, and support for those who want to remain PCs and not seek promotion will I hope address the problem of PCs not being seen on the streets which PCSOs were brought in to try and solve.

Employing people as PCSOs can be a way of bringing specialist skills, such as languages, into the police. I think that is a valuable and justifiable use of the PCSO position, where those being recruited as constables lack those skills.

Becoming a PCSO has recently become a major route in to becoming a police constable. I would rather see PCs given the full powers of a constable following their training. While a probationary period, and intense supervision is required in the early years I don’t think prospective constables ought be required to serve time as a PCSO.

A PCSO in Cambridgeshire is paid up to £20,734, and the starting salary for a PC is about to become £19,000 (This is of course a complex matter when you take into account overtime, and the way many PCs get promoted and obtain higher salaries over time, but the key point is a PC need not cost more than a PCSO; and PCSOs are not policing on the cheap).

I have written previously about the role of PCSOs:

17 comments/updates on “Role of Police Community Support Officers in Cambridgeshire

  1. Richard Taylor Article author

    Cambridgeshire MP Jonathan Djanogly has responded to the article:

    Mr Djanogly’s comments are typical of those of a slippery politician in that he makes a statement few, if any, people will disagree with, without expressing a view on the key questions such as if PCSOs ought get more powers, or if police resources ought be put towards employing more PCs rather than PCSOs.

  2. Richard Taylor Article author

    Cambridgeshire Police have, on the 17th of April 2014, belatedly published the report which was the subject of news coverage, and on which they commented, on the 5th of March 2014.

    The report is available at:

    https://www.cambs-police.co.uk/about/foi/policies/PCSO_Review.pdf

    [Update 17.00 on 17 April: I've made the report available on my website as the police have, as at the time of writing, removed the copy from their site.]

    PCSOs Spending Less than Half Their Time On High Visibility Patrol

    PCSOs were asked how much of their time they spend on “high visibility patrol”; the responses revealed that even though the role of a PCSO was intended to be free of distractions from such patroling, PCSOs in Cambridge are only spending about 45% of their time on patrol; with that fraction being even lower in East Cambs and Fenland, and not significantly above 50% anywhere in the force area.

    It appears this is a significant reduction from the original intent, and earlier practice, deploying PCSOs. Three years after PCSOs were introduced the then Minister Hazel Bleers stated:

    Most community support officers spend about 70 per cent. of their time on patrol in their local areas. They are highly visible, which contributes to the reassurance they are able to give to those communities.

    (Source)

    Spook PCSO in Cambridge


    The report notes that one PCSO in Cambridge has been working for Special Branch (officers who work closely with the security services). The report states:

    In Cambridge, the PREVENT agenda and Rich Picture (SB led) intelligence requirement has been positively supported by a local PCSO who has been frequently tasked to gather intelligence on a variety of persons and places of interest.

    Recommendation Cambridge Loses Just One PCSO As Numbers Reduced Further Elsewhere

    The last page of the report, in an addendum, recommends Cambridge gets 28 PCSOs; and there be 150 PCSOs overall. This is in-line with Police and Crime Commissioner Bright’s published plan. Currently there are 179 PCSOs in Cambridgeshire, 29 of whom are in Cambridge.

    Initial Distribution of PCSOs Around Force Area Unplanned

    The report comments on the distribution of PCSOs around the force area saying:

    Their deployment was based to some extent on where (as support staff) applicants wanted to serve

    This is an astonishing insight into the lack of strong leadership and management within the police. The report gives options for targeting PCSOs to areas based on population, or crime hotspots, if their numbers are reduced further.

    Recommendation PCSOs Not To Work After 10pm

    The report, confirms that PCSOs in Cambridgeshire currently do not work after midnight; and considers the option of not having PCSOs working after 8pm at night. In the summer this would mean they wouldn’t work in the dark. The recommendation made is that PCSOs only work until 10pm. (p55)

    The report also notes that some PCSOs have refused to go out on their own after 8pm; insisting they go out in pairs; one inspector told the review:

    You have some individuals refusing to go out after 20.00 because they don‟t have anyone to crew with.”

    The report recommends: “Double-crewing of PCSOs after 20:00hrs ceases. ”

    Use of Force by PCSOs

    In 2012-13 there were about 20 incidents recorded incidents of use of force by PCSOs in Cambridge and 78 over the force area.

    The report states:

    Two PCSOs (unrelated: one in Peterborough, one in Cambridge) were jointly responsible for 28% of all instances of use of force by PCSOs. Excluding these two outliers (with a suggestion that there may be a need to assess their deployment as they appear to be routinely at greater risk than their colleagues)

    Police Seeking More Powers for PCSOS

    Along with the review Cambridgeshire Police’s Response to Home Office Consultation on PCSO Powers has been published.

    The force are asking for PCSOs to be given the powers to search people for drugs, the power to issue a penalty notice for cycling without lights and the power to issue penalty notice for parking in a restricted area (yellow lines outside schools) as well as the right of entry to investigate licensable activities

    The report notes:

    Presently, Cambridgeshire Constabulary has deferred every available power to its PCSOs

    It is interesting to know this is still the case; this information is not published on prominently on the police website, and it has previously taken me many months to obtain information on what powers have been delegated to PCSOs in Cambridgeshire.

    Other Notes from the Report

    • It’s interesting to see a PCSO complain to the reviewers about “completing ASB call backs that have no impact on satisfaction”; having received vacuous non-update calls from the police after reporting a crime I can share my experience that these are annoying for the recipients as well as the officers asked to make them.
    • Surveys have been carried out asking people if they’ve seen or met PCSOs. The question of if people can recognise a PCSO, and tell them apart from a Police Constable has not been addressed though. My experience of public meetings has shown there is often confusion between PCSOs and PCs and I think this brings the value of the surveys into question.
    • Clearly from the submissions to the review both PCSOs themselves and the public appear to think PCSOs are cheaper than PCs. As I note in the above article this is not necessarily the case.
    • Public sector workers interviewed unanimously supported the role of PCSOs; showing an interesting division between that group and the wider public.
    • In relation to social media the report states:

      Managing social media. Presently there is a very inconsistent approach to PCSOs and social media usage. Some historical errors in use/messaging have lead some sergeants to take a hyper-cautious approach which is not fully justified.

    • Councillors Virginia and Michael Buckner (Fenland District & Wisbech Town) are the only elected representatives whose input to the review is reported. There’s no input from the Police and Crime Commissioner. The Police and Crime Commissioner himself isn’t mentioned in the report, and neither even is his office, it’s as if they don’t exist.
    • The PCSO deployment guidenlines are also published. I note they say:

      PCSOs should not merely wear a plain jacket over uniform and remove it when they need to use powers (the Superman effect!).

      I note Police Inspector Poppet attends Cambridge City Area Committees with a plain jacket over uniform and I’m interested to see the police formally consider his approach to uniform to be analogous to that of superman.

  3. Bernard

    I happened to be in a Lincolnshire police station this week and read a poster about Neighbourhood Policing published by the Force which commits PCSOs to be on visible patrol for 80% of their duty time. The 80% is based on Home Office policy re PCSOs. Did Cambridgeshire ever sign up to this commitment? If yes then they are clearly missing the target.
    On a related note Sir Graham addressed the Werrington (Peterborough) Neighbourhood Council on Monday 13 April. He was asked why he was reducing the number of PCSOs from 180 to 150 despite his assurance that the increase in police precept would ensure no reduction in front line service. His response was that there would be more police officers to compensate. Presumably he means vacancies will be filled rather than the officer establishment increased? Interestingly talking to PCSOs the Constabulary is carrying a number of vacancies. Could one guess the saving will pay for the much needed second Outreach Worker?

    1. Richard Taylor Article author

      The report could also have been removed in light of a complaint from Cllr Virginia Bucknor who has demanded it be amended so it doesn’t wrongly describe her, and Cllr Michael Buckner as UKIP councillors:

    2. Richard Taylor Article author

      Another suggestion for the retraction has been made via Twitter:

      The police are usually quite proud of their particular style of “English”.

  4. Richard Taylor Article author

    p97 of the report reveals Cambridge City Council Anti-Social Behavior Officer Louise Walbank (A former PCSO) is not aware, in detail, of the range of powers that a PCSO has at their disposal. I hope she has forgotten since she was a PCSO and at the time, while exercising the powers, was fully aware of their scope.

  5. Richard Taylor Article author

    The Cambridge News has an article: Reaction after force reveals a PCSO has been ‘gathering intelligence’ for Special Branch from Cambridge Muslims.

    The article quotes an unnamed “police spokeswoman” who states:

    There are no individual 
PCSOs specifically tasked with this.

    This contradicts Chief Inspector James Sutherland’s report which, as quoted above, stated:

    In Cambridge, the PREVENT agenda and Rich Picture (SB led) intelligence requirement has been positively supported by a local PCSO who has been frequently tasked to gather intelligence on a variety of persons and places of interest.

    If the police corporately disagree with the Chief Inspector’s report perhaps that’s why it has been removed from the police website.

  6. Richard Taylor Article author

    My FOI request for the report was refused citing a “release strategy” for the report which it is claimed included a publication date.

    A committee was due to consider my request for the refusal to release the report on Wednesday 16th April, the day before the report was briefly published on the force website, and the force issued an official tweet pointing to it.

    I have suggested the force consider publishing the “release strategy”; it will be interesting to see if the strategy, when it emerges, describes a process of hiding the document deep on the force website, not linking to it, but issuing a single tweet, and then a few hours later removing the report from the website and issuing a statement contradicting one of its findings.

  7. Richard Taylor Article author

    The requested report has now been published and made available at

    http://www.cambs-police.co.uk/about/foi/policies/The%20PCSO%20Review%20Redacted%20Version.pdf

    There are 22 fewer pages in the document published than the version I have published on my website at:

    http://www.rtaylor.co.uk/pdf/PCSO_Review.pdf

    No explanation for the redactions are given.

    The redacted material includes the list partner agencies from which individuals were interviewed to inform the report. The place this was removed from was marked “Redacted”.

    The following was removed silently without a note that it had been removed:

    In Cambridge, the PREVENT agenda and Rich Picture (SB led) intelligence requirement has been positively supported by a local PCSO who has been frequently tasked to gather intelligence on a variety of persons and places of interest.

    In Peterborough the PREVENT agenda and Rich Picture intelligence requirements have been similarly supported by PCSOs from Eastern sector

    This material has, as noted above, been the subject of a news story:
    http://www.cambridge-news.co.uk/News/Reaction-after-force-reveals-a-PCSO-has-been-gathering-intelligence-for-Special-Branch-from-Cambridge-Muslims-20140418060505.htm

    The entirety of Annex D “Records of Interviews with Partner Agencies/Representatives” has also been silently removed from the document.

    The entirety of Annex E – Response to Home Office Consultation on PCSO Powers has also been silently removed from the document.

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