GUEST POST- PCSO Powers: The Sergeant’s View

The debate over PCSO powers has long raged, making headlines again this month, with South Yorkshire Constabulary beefing up the powers of its PCSOs and turning them in to ‘Local Beat Officers’.

Sgt Tariq Butt, who works directly with PCSOs in Manchester, disagrees outright with proposals like this. He tells OnTheBeat why he thinks PCSO powers should stay the just way they are.

Sgt Butt has been with the police for 12 years, and now oversees a neighbourhood team of eight PCs and four PCSOs. He also blogs about issues affecting the police at realityofpolicing.blogspot.com  and tweets from @TariqButt2.

WITH GREAT POWER COMES GREAT RESPONSIBILITY…

The Challenge

Sgt Tariq Butt

Out in all weather and clocking up the miles on foot patrol, imagine tackling large gangs of drunken youths or a criminal determined to get away ‘at all costs’ armed with just a high visability jacket, body armour and a torch! Oh, and not to mention limited powers…

Now that’s some of the challenges faced by PCSOs today!

The role of a PCSO is underrated and misunderstood by so many, both from inside and outside the world of policing.

What is understood though, particularly from the criminal fraternity, is the limited powers held by PCSOs, or at least an understanding of their limitations.

Whilst this is no doubt a challenge to PCSOs, I believe further powers may be detrimental to them as individuals and to the post they hold.

PCSOs

Most PCSOs I have ever worked with have been keen and dedicated individuals, who really just want to make a difference to the lives of the community that they have a responsibility too.

However, the law of averages will of course mean that there are those who underperform and those that shy away from the tougher side of the role – and in these cases robust supervision is needed to deal with them.

There is also an element particularly from some police officers who think PCSOs are just there to create more work for them.

They often hear the words ‘can I have an officer attend to assist’ over the radio, and think that if the PCSO wasn’t out and about, then whatever it is would never have been reported. If it wasn’t for those pesky PCSO’s…

Admittedly, all of this compounded by a negative portrayal in the media did cause tension in the early days of the PCSO. However, I would like to think that times have moved on – for the better.

Powers

They might not be as tooled up or have all the powers of a constable but what they do have is the ability to interact with people, communicate and build a rapport.  Not having powers can be a blessing in disguise (sometimes), as I think you actually get down to dealing with what the problem is, the root cause, rather than arresting your way out of it.

A recent example I came across was in a neighbour dispute over parking. Police officers attended, and as the two neighbours were arguing they ended arresting them for a public order offence. A few weeks afterwards, PCSOs attended the same incident, calmed both parties and then involved the housing associations and local authority, who ended up marking out boundaries and actually resolving the issue.

Giving them more powers could actually take them away from their core role and potentially alienate them from the public.

They risk losing that close link and their ability to effectively gather intelligence, acting as the eyes and ears of the community.

Benefits

PCSOs bring so many benefits. They free up officer time by conducting basic enquiries and perform vital intelligence gathering. They also have an intimate knowledge of local issues, people, offenders, crime patterns and bring police and partner agencies together. All of which can assist officers regardless of rank or role.

PCSOs do a difficult job in difficult circumstances and are, in my mind, the unsung heroes of many local communities.

What do YOU think? Should PCSOs be given more powers or should they stay the way they are? Leave your comments below.

If you missed it, check out OnTheBeat’s day out on the job with Sgt Butt’s team here. You can find more of OnTheBeat’s coverage of the debate on PCSO powers here, and in the Met Commissoner’s talk here

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