Revealed: PCSO Stress Soars As Police Cut Back
Revealed: The True Cost of Community Policing – to the PCSOs
Staff cuts causing stress among PCSOs
PCSO days lost due to sickness up 112%
PCSOs “filling the gaps” where other staff have been cut
Widespread cuts to policing budgets across the country are putting community officers under increased pressure and stress.
Complaints of stress are emerging as the 20% police budget cut obliges forces to drastically reduce staff numbers, meaning PCSOs are being called upon to pick up the slack.
PCSOs pick up the slack
A PCSO from Lincolnshire who didn’t want to be named said “the police cuts bite deeply into the police forces through England and Wales – PCSOs are being asked to do more than what the role states.”
Occupational Psychologist Dr Almuth McDowall, who has done extensive research on police forces across the country, agreed that some areas have seen a drastic reduction in numbers, putting pressure on remaining staff. “The reductions in numbers can be very stressful because the work, tasks and jobs don’t go away”.
PCSOs experiencing conflicting demands on their time
The situation is particularly acute for PCSOs, who are experiencing conflicting demands on their time. One PCSO told us “the paperwork is increasing which is taking us off the streets where we should be. PCSOs should be out on the beat, not filling in forms in the back office – but cuts and redundancies mean they are having to fill the gaps where other staff aren’t available.”The problem is not just that there is a reduction in numbers overall, says Dr McDowall. In some instances the cuts are focused on more senior members of staff, leaving more junior officers to fulfil roles that they are not equipped or trained to carry out.
Little support available
“It’s not just to do with an increased workload – In forces where they are reducing numbers of more senior officers, often junior staff have to pick up some of these tasks. Job roles are more complex, but there’s little support or guidance available” noted Dr McDowall.
“Everybody finds it stressful being thrown in at the deep end. Officers are not being eased into new responsibilities, there is nobody to help in those transitions, so of course they are stressed”.
The PCSO who spoke to us about his experiences agreed: “PCSOs are being given less back up with no extra powers or pay which is adding to the stress put on officers and cutting the time we have to spend out within our community”.
PCSO days off sick increase by 112%
Figures from the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) show that PCSO days lost to sickness have increased from 4.2 to 8.9 days per PCSO – an increase of 112% since 2003. In comparison, the number of days police officers took off due to illness decreased from 9.7 to 6.8 days.
Tony Almond from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) told onthebeat101 that “employers should look at the risk and take proportionate measure to prevent people being made ill because of stress.”
The MPS told onthebeat101 that they “remain committed to addressing and reducing the impact both for individuals and the wider business community of stress related illnesses.”
“Despite the physically and mentally demanding nature of police work, absenteeism rates in the MPS are low” they insisted.
But it looks as though things may well get worse before they get better. The cuts are just the beginning of sweeping changes for police forces across the country. Dr McDowall told us that “all change is stressful, even if it’s change for the better, but change is particularly difficult when you feel you have no control over it. Today in the police forces, change is top down and foot soldiers are all at the receiving end.”
Better communication can reduce stress
But there are ways to improve the situation. Forces should talk to their staff more and keep them up to date with what is happening. “Senior staff are forgetting to talk to their teams and it’s very stressful not to know what’s going on”. Better communication gives people feeling they are involved and this is key to reducing stress and anxiety resulting from restructuring or organisational changes.
The MPS said they had several programmes to tackle stress in the workplace, including a counselling service and a 24hour on-call facility for emergency support. Fast-track interventions are offered to staff that need more intense therapies.
Counselling is available for officers
The MPS said it also trains staff to identify signs of stress in themselves and others as well as helping with practical coping strategies. Breaking down misconceptions around stress as an illness is also a vital part of the scheme.
Yet little is being done to tackle the lack communication at the heart of forces, or calm the anxiety surrounding the budget cutbacks.
So while training initiatives may be be having some effect among police officers, PCSOs do not seem to be reaping their benefits in the same way. Out patrolling the streets, are they being left out in the cold when it comes to attempts to ensure officers’ mental wellbeing?
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