This week Labour’s prospective parliamentary candidate for Cambridge, Daniel Zeichner has been calling for more powers to be given to PCSOs in Cambridge. Mr Zeichner particularly wants PCSOs to be used to clamp down on illegal cycling.
I agree with Mr Zeichner in so far as there is a lot of dangerous and illegal cycling in Cambridge, particularly cycling without lights on busy roads which is a danger to cyclists and drivers. It would be good if the police could do more to deal with this. However I am worried that a more heavy handed approach by the police would damage police-public relations. In the case of riding without lights am a big supporter of Cambridge police’s “light-touch” approach which involves taking no further action if evidence that you have now got working lights on your bike is taken to the police station within a week of you being stopped without them.
I have some concerns about what Mr Zeichner is calling for:
- Mr Zeichner appears to be campaigning for PCSOs to be given a power which I have already seen a local PCSO use. On his website Zeichner reports a police officer has stated:
“It is disastrous to the credibility of PCSOs when cyclists sail past them with no lights, up a one-way street or through a red traffic light, and the PCSO has no power to stop them”.
I have seen PCSO 7075 stop a cyclist cycling the wrong way up Sidney Street in Cambridge, so at least one PCSO appears to already be exercising a power to stop cyclists under such circumstances in Cambridge. In order to better inform the debate on PCSO powers in Cambridge I have (after years of asking nicely), submitted a formal request using the freedom of information site: whatdotheyknow.com to find out what the current powers of PCSOs in Cambridge are. I have written more about this FOI request here.
- I have been suggesting for some time that police in Cambridge City have often been taking a very heavy handed approach to the policing of minor cycling offences. I have been particularly critical of elements of the 2006 and 2007 “Operation Cyclone” specifically the arbitrary “stop checks” during which cyclists were asked to prove ownership of their bikes, some of which were subjected to a safety check. I am concerned that being overzealous in this area will have the effect of damaging the public perception of the police.
- There is a need for an improvement in the way cycle routes, and cycle permissions, in Cambridge City centre are signed on the streets. Currently I believe it is almost essential to consult the official map of cycle routes to understand what is allowed and what is not, that is not an acceptable state of affairs, especially if we were to ask the police to enforce the laws more vigorously.
- I think Mr Zeichner doesn’t go far enough, he is calling for PCSOs to be given more powers; why doesn’t he consider going a bit further calling for more fully trained PC’s with full powers instead of PCSOs?. A PCSO can expect to start on a salary of £22,233 when normal weekend working and shift allowances are taken into account. A PC in Cambridgeshire’s salary on completion of training is £22,770. As PCs can cost about the same as PCSOs and I believe we would be better off spending our money on fully trained PCs. Of course then we would have to ensure that, as PCSOs were intended, they were actually sent out to police the city rather than to work almost entirely from the police station as increasingly our police officers appear to do.
I have written to Mr Zeichner letting him know my views.