• Why we must retain our police community support officers

    13th February 2017 | News | Claire
  • Despite Alison Hernandez, Police and Crime Commissioner announcing a £24m investment in the region’s force last month, a key and deeply disappointing proposal is to reduce PCSOs from 340 to 190.

    The unexpected extra funding amid a sea of austerity and cuts has been created by an increase in council tax and drawing down cash that has been held in reserve by the force.

    Although police officer numbers will increase by around 100, the main focus is to be on fighting cyber crime, including child sexual exploitation and terrorism – both vitally important areas and it is absolutely right that the police should prioritise highly working against such terrible activities. 

    But a study by Cambridge University Institute of Criminology, has showed that high-visibility patrols cut crime levels.

    The Cambridge study looked at the effect of visible PCSOs on the streets, in 34 “hot spots” and found that 999 calls dropped by 20% and reported crimes fell by 39% over the year of the study.

    In all, having PCSOs patrol each of the target areas for just over 20 minutes a day cost the equivalent of two salaries – but the university estimated that it saved more than quarter of a million pounds in prison costs.

    Mrs Hernandez has indicated that the PCSOs who survive the axe are likely to be in the cities and larger towns, meaning that smaller towns such as my ward of Ottery St Mary and villages, such as those in the wider parish, could be left high and dry.

    The reason axing of so many PCSOs concerns me is that they provide an absolutely vital policing presence – and after so many officer cuts, they are often the only police presence anyone ever sees.

    In the Halcyon days before austerity when Ottery St Mary had a fully operational and public police station which was staffed by a team of visible and cheerful team of officers, members of the public and councillors were supported by a whole team of people.

    Now Ottery’s visible police presence is ONE person – PCSO, Maria Clapp – who sorts out a range of thorny and sensitive issues with great diplomacy. She is endlessly helpful, calm and cheerful and local people as well as Ottery St Mary Town Council value her work immensely.

    That’s why I wrote to Mrs Hernandez last week urging her to retain PCSO Clapp and emphasising how important PCSOs are to smaller towns and villages.

    Backing the decision to refocus the force’s attention on cyber crime, chief constable Shawn Sawyer has said:  “In a changing online crime world we cannot define local policing just by people on the street.”

    Of course this is true, but I would argue that we need both – those who can deal with the scourge of cyber crime – and those who can provide a visible and reassuring presence in our communities, combating anti social behaviour and a range of other issues.

    I very much hope that Mrs Hernandez and Shawn Sawyer will amend their plan and retain the vast majority of PCSOs in the region.