Police chief offers PCSO assurance


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The Independent Online

A chief constable today sought to reassure the public that police were not being taken off the beat and replaced with community support officers.

David Crompton, Chief Constable of South Yorkshire Police, told the police authority meeting in Barnsley that reports of proposals to rebrand PCSOs were a "storm in a teacup".

The meeting discussed the update of the initiative, which has seen PCSOs in South Yorkshire become the first line of contact for the public in neighbourhood policing matters.

The proposals state that regular officers would be grouped into so-called "taskable teams" available to deal with serious incidents, with PCSOs, under the title local beat officer (LBO), carrying out grass-roots work on the streets.

Mr Crompton told today's meeting: "We aren't taking police officers away from areas they work, they will still be working in the same areas they have worked in previously, dealing with problems in the same streets, in the same communities.

"They will still be working in the same areas, they will not be stuck away in some police station somewhere."

The meeting was told that the proposals affected only neighbourhood policing, not the response teams.

Mr Crompton said: "If somebody needs a police officer, they will get one, in the same way they always have."

In a statement released earlier today, Mr Crompton described media reports as "inaccurate".

"Today's discussion in relation to PCSO powers and duties would not result in a removal of police constables from frontline policing," he said.

"PCSOs will continue their valuable role working alongside police officers and special constables in safer neighbourhood teams working in communities as they always have done.

"Our proposal is that we enhance their powers so that they can deal with more incidents that don't require a police constable with the powers of arrest."

Assistant Chief Constable Andy Holt added: "We are not removing any bobbies from the beat in South Yorkshire."

He said the new initiative meant that communities were not left without cover when police officers were taken away to deal with operations in other areas.

Mr Holt added: "We saw this paper as reinforcing our commitment to neighbourhood policing."

Many members of the police authority voiced their support for the initiative, which is already under way in South Yorkshire.

However, Councillor Shaun Wright, the mayor of Rotherham, told the meeting he had "reservations".

He said the use of PCSOs as a first point of contact was "leaving people exposed" and claimed it was a "risk too far".

He added that the proposals and the change of name to "local beat officer" would lead to confusion about accountability and the public's understanding of policing.

Cllr Wright suggested that the initiative was piloted in one district before being rolled out across the county if it was successful.

Mr Crompton said some details of the proposals needed to be looked at and suggested another review be put before the authority in September.

He said he wanted to gauge what the community reaction was to the changes.

Mr Crompton said: "It is extremely important as we go forward to gauge that reaction and build it into however we are structuring our policing in the future."

He added: "In times of financial constraints it is the force's duty to explore all avenues as we continue to strive to use the resources available to us in the most effective way and we will maintain an open mind as to how we achieve this."

Former home secretary David Blunkett, who introduced PCSOs, had raised concerns at the proposals and welcomed Mr Crompton's decision to consult the public on the new initiative.

He said: "I very much welcome a sensible approach, not only to hearing what people think, but also to clarifying precisely what is intended, how it differs from the immediate past and whether we are really moving back to hands-off policing or retaining the neighbourhood beat team approach."

Neil Bowles, chairman of the South Yorkshire Police Federation representing regular officers, told the Yorkshire Post: "We would oppose the proliferation of powers to PCSOs and would have concerns over accountability if further powers are given to them."

But Keith Vaz, chairman of the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee, said the move was "a serious departure from traditional policing where warranted police officers are out on the front line, can initiate arrests, conduct investigations and build community confidence".

"We should value the work of PCSOs, but their name implies their function, they were created to support frontline police officers," he said.

"The Government has initiated a radical and imaginative agenda as far as a new landscape of policing is concerned.

"The sole aim has been to get police officers back out on to the streets.

"This policy contradicts that stated aim. It will add to costs not reduce them - the PCSOs need to be trained and given experience in areas that they previously have not."

Adding that it was "no surprise" that other forces in Yorkshire seemed unwilling to adopt the proposals, he warned: "This is a slippery slope.

"In due course these new functions for PCSOs may be undertaken by, who knows, G4S or Serco. We do not want to go in that direction.

"When a member of the public calls the police, they expect to see a police officer, it's as simple as that."