Rape threats on the job: the darker side of being a PCSO
Michael* has been a PCSO in Merseyside for six years. On the job he has endured overwhelming abuse from the public, including serious threats against his family.
Michael has been writing about his experiences online as he felt it was time to speak up about the reality of his job. He has now kindly agreed to share his story with On The Beat under condition of anonymity.
*Name changed to protect his identity
So, Michael, why did you become a PCSO in the first place? Has it been what you expected?
It was the classic “get my foot in the door” scenario in order to move on to become a Constable. It has been nothing like what I expected, although I should say I didn’t have a great idea what the PCSO role was about when I started. We were taught by a group of retired bobbies from surrounding forces who left long before PCSOs were even thought of. Their explanation of our job was for “when the wheel comes off”. This was completely inaccurate as they were describing the role of a response Constable, not a PCSO.
They’d also train us in dealing with rape victims, prostitution legislation and the like… basically stuff we’d never need to know, and which also gave us a completely inaccurate portrayal of what the job was about. I also remember being taught that we weren’t allowed to use reasonable force or put hands on anyone.
This was, in my opinion, a very dangerous way to send the PCSOs out onto the streets.
They would then be walking around getting into situations and letting them get out of hand because they’d be thinking “I’m not a Constable” and “I can’t touch anyone”. The more accurate way we should have been taught is- “The force doesn’t want you use force or any of your legislative or common law powers, but you can if you are in a situation where it is necessary”.
You say you’ve often been the target of serious abuse while out working- what happened?
These situations were usually where I would be out on foot on my own in a VERY deprived area with a high crime rate and a general public who vehemently dislike the police. The last time involved checking a motorbike suspected as stolen. The owner was compliant, but a well-known young man decided to get involved. He got in between myself and the bike and started squaring up to me. He began to use bad language and insults such as “you’re a waste of space”.
After I stood my ground and he and his mates backed down, his threats then became directed towards my family, to burgle my house whilst I was at work and to sexually assault my “slag of a wife”.
This understandably made me annoyed, but more than anything disheartened as I know I would get no support from my colleagues or supervision. They see it as just a part of the job.
Are these kinds of experiences common among PCSOs to your knowledge?
Not all of these experiences are common. Some PCSOs seem to leave the station then just disappear. I’m quite a big bloke so perhaps that makes me more of a target to “have a go” at. I also find I’m only one of few PCSOs who actually challenge these individuals and I’ve had many people locked up over the years for all sorts, where as I have PCSO colleagues who’ve never actually called down a patrol to have someone arrested. On the balance of simple probability, I cannot understand why they would not have at least once needed the help of a Constable.
Why do you think the threats you get are no longer “just directed at the uniform”, as you’ve written before?
I’ve not heard the term “plastic bobby” or the usual “you can’t do anything” for years. I think the reason for this is that the local criminals and gangs have been witnesses to times I’ve had to use force or our legislative powers of arrest. Now it seems that they consider “you can’t do anything” an unsuitable insult, so now it has become personal.
It makes me think “why do I bother and not just keep my head down like all the rest?”
I get more abuse as I actually deal with them whereas other PCSOs don’t have much trouble- why don’t I just keep walking? I think perhaps it’s a sense of pride, and not wanting to be paid just to be a vessel for abuse.
Did these experiences ever make you consider leaving your job?
Yes, I would leave tomorrow if I had a similarly paid job to go in to.
Is there anything more that could be done to stop this kind of thing happening?
Changes to legislation, case law and- most importantly- a police force and supervision who actually want to tackle problems rather than just thinking about their next promotion. The public play a part also. We know crimes and incidents are happening, but not all get reported. It seems in our society, we just “don’t want to make a fuss” and unfortunately get told we are doing so when we raise a proper issue. Therefore, when we see people spitting in the street, an intimidating gang of youths blocking shop entrances, drug dealing going on outside our houses and so on, what do we do?
We shrug our shoulders and just say “that’s the way things are”. We need to tackle all or nothing.
Is there anything else you would like to share?
We as PCSOs do the job that nobody else wants to do. Nobody wants to actually WALK and be the closest thing to the old neighbourhood bobby anymore. Not only this, but who in their right mind would do it without any belt kit with a public who think you’re a pushover and can’t do anything? We basically do the job a bobby did in the 1950s – no kit and having to sit on someone until backup arrives.
If they axed all PCSOs, then you simply wouldn’t see any police on the streets anymore, other than driving past going to an incident. Most bobbies are “too good” to go out on foot. It is not a case of putting the funding back into the police and expecting an army of ‘beat bobbies’ to swarm an area.
The end result that all police forces want is a cheap workforce of PCSOs to have the responsibility, duties and expectations of a bobby, but without the training, pay, kit, powers or support.
You only have to look at the tasks we get sent to on a daily basis. For example, dealing with a large group of drunken rowdy youths often in a confined area at night, forcibly seizing vehicles, reaching performance targets and manning crime scenes, despite how we’re “not bobbies and don’t have powers of arrest”. They basically want you to be a Constable, but only at times when they see fit.
Has your experience as a PCSO been anything like this? How do you think PCSOs are treated? Do you have any advice on how to deal with this type of behaviour? Post your thoughts below…