FOI Request – Powers of PCSOs in Cambridgeshire


Friday, July 25th, 2008. 1:14am

For quite some time now I have been asking Cambridgeshire Police to publicise, preferably on their website, exactly what powers our local PCSOs have been given by the Chief Constable. On the 12th of September 2007 I got a commitment from the Chief Constable live on BBC Radio Cambridgeshire to do just this but this was not followed up with action. I lobbied members of the police authority (eg. on 6/10/2007) as I think monitoring the powers given to PCSOs should be at the heart of what they do. I have also attended local area committees when policing is discussed, as well as contacting the police’s web team making the same basic request – for the powers of PCSOs in Cambridgeshire to be publicised, so far, without success.

The powers of a police community support officer (PCSO) are currently comprised by those laid down by The Police Reform Act 2002 (Standard Powers and Duties of Community Support Officers) Order 2007 augmented by discretionary powers designated by individual Chief Constables. There was an audit of powers designated in each force conducted by the Association of Chief Police Officers and the Home Office in May 2007. I believe the  2007 audit may now be out of date and in any case it never provided detail on geographic restrictions of powers or any differences between PCSOs, for example any extra powers given to those designated “Traffic PCSOs”.  There are differences in practice in the powers of PCSOs in Cambridgeshire. The fact PCSOs in Peterborough to issue fixed penalty tickets for fly-tipping at a level set by the local council has been widely trumpeted. However despite discussing fly-tipping within Cambridge extensively with councillors, council officers and the police no mention of PCSOs using fixed penalty tickets has been made. On a different area of powers I have also witnessed PCSO 7075 stop cyclists cycling the wrong way down Sidney Street in Cambridge and cannot see a power enabling that in the May 2007 audit.

Now Labour’s prospective parliamentry candidate Mr Zeichner has made PCSO powers a top topic of public debate in the city I have submitted a formal request to the police for the powers of PCSOs in Cambridge to be released, in order that the response is placed into the public domain I have done this using the Whatdotheyknow.com website. I have also suggested that this information is made available, and kept up to date, on the police website.

The text of this request is below:

I would like to request details of the powers given by the Chief Constable to PCSOs in Cambridgeshire.

I anticipate the response to my request will include:

i/ The content of all current “designation cards” issued to PCSOs in Cambridgeshire.

ii/ Details of all local authority fixed penalty notices which PCSOs in Cambridgeshire issue, along with information on which geographical areas these powers cover.

iii/ Details of all local Cambridgeshire Police fixed penalty notices which PCSOs in Cambridgeshire issue, along with information on which geographical areas these powers cover.

iv/ Information on the powers of PCSOs with varying experience and “qualifications”, for example additional powers, if any, given to “Traffic” PCSOs.

v/ Information on the circumstances where a Cambridgeshire PCSO has the power to require a person’s name and address.

I would like to suggest this information is made available, and kept up to date, on the police website.

Richard Taylor

Cambridge

The question about requiring a name and address is included this is one area where I find the powers of PCSOs to be particularly unclear, despite having reviewed Schedule 4 of the Police Reform Act 2002, Schedule 8 of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act, Section 33 of the Anti-social behavior act 2003 and chapter 37 of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 which appear to be just some of the laws which govern this area.

12 comments/updates on “FOI Request – Powers of PCSOs in Cambridgeshire

  1. Richard Article author

    Cambridgeshire Police wrote to me to say:

    I regret to inform you that Cambridgeshire Constabulary have not been able
    to complete its response to your request by the date originally stated.

    I now advise you that the amended date for a response is 24/09/08. I can
    assure you that every effort will be made to ensure an appropriate response
    will be made within this new timescale.

    The FOI act requires that information is disclosed as quickly as possible, and in any case within twenty working days. Cambridgeshire Police are suggesting they are going to fail to comply with those requirements in what I consider to be a very straightforward request for information.
    Not only do Cambridgeshire Police have an “Information access office” but they also have systems in place for dealing with, and auditing their performance in response to FOI requests. I am appalled that despite this expensive infrastructure, simple requests are not being dealt with in a timely manner.

  2. Richard Article author

    As I had made this request for information in the public forum of whatdotheyknow.com I felt that once the statutory twenty days for a response had past I felt I ought to write to them to let them know I was not happy with the way my request had been dealt with:
    I note that the statutory timescale of twenty working days as defined by the Freedom of Information Act 2000 has now been exceeded.

    I am not happy that Cambridgeshire Police propose to take around two months to release what I believe should be easily and rapidly accessible information. I have not been given an explanation for the delay.

    I am aware the information I am requesting namely: “the powers given by the Chief Constable to PCSOs in Cambridgeshire” may be changing during the time it is taking Cambridgeshire Police to respond to my request. I am concerned that when I do get a response it may be out of date. While I do not wish to amend or clarify my request in any way, I hope you will be able to negate this concern when the information I am seeking is released.

    As I am unhappy with the way my request has been handled, I would like to request a review. I look forward to a response within seven days as promised in the “Complaint Rights” document you attached.

    If you release the information I requested within the next seven days I will withdraw my request for a review.

    Richard Taylor

    Cambridge

  3. Richard Article author

    I have written to two local members of the Police Authority making them aware of the delays, which are not applying only to me.

    Mr Wilkins and Olive Main,

    I am writing you as relevant members of the Police Authority. I am aware that one of the roles the police authority fulfills is reviewing Cambridgeshire Police’s compliance with the Freedom of Information Act. A lot of time, effort and money apparently goes into attempting compliance and auditing of the Police’s performance in meeting its duties under the act. I would like to draw your attention to the fact the police are currently informing those requesting information that it will take around two months for their request to be processed whereas the act requires a response to be made as rapidly as possible and in any case within twenty working days:

    http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/body/cambridgeshire_constabulary

    In the case of my request for the powers of PCSOs in Cambridge to be released, I made the formal FOI request via the Whatdotheyknow.com website which puts the correspondence and released material in the public domain only after spending many months informally seeking the release of the information. For example on the 12th of September 2007 I got a commitment from the Chief Constable live on BBC Radio Cambridgeshire to publish the powers on the police website as other forces do however this was not followed up with action. I wrote to both of you on the 6th of October 2007 suggesting you ask the Chief Constable to follow up on her commitment.

    I find it hard to get information out of the police, they appear to be institutionally secretive. As you can see from the Whatdotheyknow.com link it is not only my requests which are subject to illegal delays. I also note that the leader of Cambridge City Council has been seeking the publication of the membership, dates, and minutes of the police run “Neighborhood Action Group” meetings in Cambridge for a number of months now, again without success. I doubt he has resorted to citing the FOI act in his requests, but he shouldn’t have to, all requests for information should be dealt with under the terms of the act, it should have resulted in a culture change in public authorities, and in the case of Cambridgeshire Police it hasn’t.

    I hope this email helps bring some more depth and “colour” next time you are reviewing a bland table of numbers detailing the police force’s FOI compliance performance.

  4. Richard Article author

    I wrote to Cambridgeshire Police letting them know:

    The links to documents from the August and September FOI disclosure logs do not work. Logs from earlier months do work.

  5. Richard Article author

    Cambridgeshire Police have responded:

    Dear Richard,

    We apologise for the August and September FOI’s not being available. There
    are a few technical issues but we will have them published very soon..

    Kind regards,
    Cambridgeshire Constabulary.

  6. Richard Article author

    I have now finally been sent details of the agreement between Peterborough City Council and Cambridgeshire Police regarding PCSOs issuing local authority fixed penalty notices in Peterborough. I have also been sent an agreement between Cambridge City Council and Cambridgeshire Police.

    The two documents which I have been sent appear to be out of date. It is not clear if the agreements the released documents describe have been renewed and are currently in effect.

    I find it very surprising that Cambridgeshire Constabulary do not hold a copy of an agreement with Huntingdonshire District Council as a draft of that agreement is available (http://applications.huntsdc.gov.uk/moderngov/mgConvert2PDF.aspx?ID=11317).

    The agreement with Cambridge City Council states:

    “The Parties shall enter into negotiations with the aim of agreeing further terms with respect to the issuing of fixed penalty notices in relation to offences with respect to graffiti and littering; the further terms would authorise the issue of these notices by the police community support officers on behalf of the Council”

    As the police state they do not hold any other information in relation to my request this implies these negotiations were not successful and no agreement on the issuing of fixed penalty notices was reached.

  7. james bolton

    i have browsed this article and find myself wondering if mr taylor has to much time on his hands. be grateful people (PCSO) are out there trying to help you live in a safer community. support them support you and leave the digs for things not being done in your community

  8. Richard Article author

    There is no contradiction between supporting the police and trying to get them to operate in a more open and transparent manner.

    This is about something which is not being done in Cambridge – fly-tipping is not being effectively tackled and I am questioning why our PCSOs have not been given the same ability to tackle fly-tipping as PCSOs elsewhere.

    The situation where the people of Cambridgeshire had no way of finding out what powers had been given to their PCSOs was ridiculous, there is still no easy way to find out the current situation.

    The police do not generally consider it part of their role to advise you of their powers, and your rights when they are dealing with you. It is very important that if we are going to give powers of the state to these PCSOs, including the ability to administer summary justice via fixed penalty tickets that we all know what powers they have.

    Knowing what powers PCSOs have is also a pre-requisite for questioning if PCSOs are good value for money; and considering if we should instead have more police officers. There is not a significant cost difference and think that having a larger core of police constables, who stay police constables in an area for a long period of time would be desirable. We don’t need all our PCs to be moving around regularly and aiming for rapid promotion.

  9. Wiliam Old

    Home Office Circular 02/2009 states: “The existing determination as to the uniform to be worn by those who are both traffic wardens and PCSOs is set out in HO Circular 65/2002. This requires such persons to wear the local PCSO uniform with the addition of a breast badge and shoulder flashes bearing the word “Traffic”. The Secretary of State considers that this can give rise to confusion.
    Members of the public may be unclear as to the status of such persons and may believe they are empowered to deal with traffic matters only. Circular 65/2002 is therefore cancelled as from 1 February 2009 and, as set out in the attached determination, traffic
    wardens who are also PCSOs should, from that time wear the local PCSO uniform without differentiation.”

    Therefore, a PCSO wearing the “Traffic” flashes as referred to in the answer to the FoI question originally posed is not in the uniform prescribed in the Home Secretary’s “determination” and hence is not acting lawfully.

  10. Richard Article author

    William,

    Cambridgeshire Police have ignored circular 02/2009.

    I agree that the use of the word “Traffic” on prominently on the PCSO uniforms leads to confusion. I think the police ought be following these “determinations” from the Home Office. As you point out these determinations have been given the force of law by the act.

    While I think the “Traffic” wording on PCSO uniforms is very misleading and very poorly understood by the public, it is, on its own, a relatively minor issue (that’s not to say I’m not very keen to get it fixed!). To me the key element about what you have raised is that it is yet another area where Cambridgeshire police are ignoring the Home Office, ignoring the structures set up to keep them under democratic control. Others include:

    1. PACE Codes, the safeguards which protect us when we are stopped, arrested, locked up and interviewed. Cambs police say these are voluntary. In particular they currently refuse to issue stop and account receipts – even though the new PACE codes which came into force on Jan 1 2009 make stop and account a very simple procedure to document (the long form has been abolished).
    http://www.rtaylor.co.uk/stop-and-account-compliance-with-pace-codes-in-cambridge.html

    2. Cambridgeshire police refuse to use a national common system for sharing information about at-risk children; members of the police authority have raised concerns about this, particularly as schools, social services and others in the area would like the police to work with them better.
    The reason given by the police for not using the form is farcical; they say essentially a police officer can’t deal with a form on which they are allowed to leave blank spaces. The police say that the fact the “Common Assessment Framework form” contains sections on health and education means that officers would end up wasting their time finding information to put in these sections (rather than leaving them).
    http://www.rtaylor.co.uk/cambridgeshire-police-authority-december-2008.html

    With respect to PCSO uniforms one big problem I have seen with them is that many people cannot distinguish them from police officers. This is problematic when people actually want the officer to do something, as in most cases a PCSO is useless. PCSOs standing by as there is disorder and lawbreaking going on around them damages people’s opinion of the police. I think we need more fully trained and empowered police. Some PCs are paid less than PCSOs so this need not have an additional cost, if we had a police service where there were a larger number of PCs who stayed at that rank for a longer time I believe a large number of benefits would arise from having more experienced individuals, not seeking rapid promotion, as PCs.

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