The office of constable is, and in my view should remain, the foundation of policing in the UK. I think it’s important that we support constables and give them the resources and freedom they need to fulfill their role while ensuring that there are safeguards in place to ensure the immense power and responsibility delegated to even the most junior officers is used appropriately.
This balance between empowering individuals but keeping that in check with safeguards is at the core of how our system works, and is well exemplified by the central power of arrest, which is an enormous power for the state to delegate to a constable, but one where the constable’s powers are held in check by them having to take the detained person to a police station once they’ve arrested them where a custody sergeant will decide if ongoing detention is justified or not, and the individual will rapidly appear in court.
Having the constable at the core of policing means that all police officers should begin their careers at the rank of constable, and all should have the experience of the challenges and immense responsibilities of the role. Promotion within the police should be on merit, and there is no reason why capable people should not rapidly progress through the ranks, I do not think there should be any arbitrary requirements for certain lengths of time to be served in particular positions. I think we need a police force where a range of career paths or styles can be followed and we should value those who wish to remain PCs or Sergeants just as much as those who seek more senior leadership positions. I think a truly meritocratic organisation would attract higher quality applicants into policing, including those valuable with life experience from other roles. The public sector must not separate itself from wider society; a job for life is not the norm outside the public sector and to prevent entrenching a divide should not be within it.
I think it is very important that constables are recruited from all parts of our society. Policing should not be something which is largely done by, and to, a particular social and educational class.
My view is that constables are better value for money than community support officers, and that there are significant benefits of having routine patrols by constables empowered to take action in relation to offences they observe. I think it is irrational to spend around the same amount on a PCSO who does not have the full powers of a constable when that money could be spent on a more capable officer. I think the key problem that PCSOs were intended to address was a lack of visible policing. I do not think dressing people up as police officers really substantively tackles this problem.
Reducing the numbers of PCSOs to pay for maintenance of constable numbers would I think be a rational response to the reduction in funds available to policing.
Historically the full powers of a constable were given to those joining the police at the most junior rank; now we have many serving time as PCSOs, without powers, before becoming constables effictively changing the entry position I do not think this was the intention of those who introduced the PSCO position or that there is any justification for it.
Where PCSOs are taken on primarily specialist language skills, those people should be moved to a separate specialist newly created role; though ideally those capable of operating as constables would be recruited with the requisite language skills.
Many PCSOs are keen to become PCs, I think we ought give those who are capable the extra powers.