Sussex Police are considering making major changes the role of Police Community Support Officers (PCSOs) as the force prepares to cut the non-warranted officers by a nearly a third.
The plans will see PCSOs given new responsibilities and training including additional powers to enter licensed premises in order to address under-age and problem drinking offences.
Under the plans the role of PCSOs will have “an increased focus on prevention and problem solving”, rather than on reassuring the public.
The news comes as the force prepares to cut the number of PCSOs by around 30 per cent – from 325 to 228 – by March 2018.
They will also be given further safety training and be issued body worn cameras as part of their new role.
Unison, the union which represents PCSOs, say it supports moves to modernise the role but fears they will lead to a loss of public trust in rural communities and put PCSOs further in “harm’s way”.
Andy Stenning, head of Unison’s Sussex Police and Justice Staff branch, said, “While on the face of it, there is a pay rise and a move to modernise the role there is more to this than meets the eye.
“While PCSOs are getting new powers and a new role, there are going to be fewer of them.
“This will significantly affect the way we do local policing particularly in the way we gather intelligence from people.
“Rural areas will be dramatically hit by these changes, areas like Crowborough, Uckfield and Battle will not have the same level of local policing as Eastbourne or Hastings do.
“The change of role will also put PCSOs in harm’s way, instead of being non-confrontational they will be expected to become confrontational and almost act as mini-police officers. They will need to be given the right training and equipment before this goes ahead.”
Assistant Chief Constable Robin Smith said the force will consult with PCSOs, police officers and other partners on the new planned powers.
He said, “It gives us a real opportunity to make PCSOs more effective and equip them with the skills they require to resolve local problems and prevent crime and disorder.
“The design is part of a broader need to transform neighbourhood and local policing, making the role more responsive, with greater responsibility and capability to solve local problems. We can not however shy away from the fact that there are fewer PCSOs in the new model.
“The proposed number has been based on analysis of the demands on the role and provides the minimum number required for the future model.
“While we will not have a physical policing presence in every geographic location we will deliver services that are proportionate to the levels of threat, risk and harm and the public in each ward will have a team to contact rather than an individually named PCSO.”
Sussex Police and Crime Commisioner, Katy Bourne, said the new plans would allow the force to make the most effective use of its available resources.
She said, “In a post-Paris world with the threat level in the UK remaining at severe, now is the right time to review PCSO’s roles and ask if they have the right skills to keep our communities safe.
“The model of neighbourhood policing and the roles of PCSOs has been unchanged for more than a decade. The consultation is an opportunity to revise PCSO skills and ensure they are equipped to support investigations and keep our communities safe.”
The announcement comes after the Chancellor, George Osborne, promised to protect police budgets in real-terms, which would amount to a £900m increase in police spending by 2019-20.
Mrs Bourne said, “I welcome the Chancellor’s announcement that there will be no further cuts to the police budget. However, we must acknowledge that only last week, the Home Secretary made it very clear to all Chief Constables and PCCs that further reform to policing and further efficiencies must still be identified and delivered.”
Don’t miss out on all the latest breaking news where you live.
Here are four ways you can be sure you’ll be amongst the first to know what’s going on.
1) Make our website your homepage
2) Like our Facebook page
3) Follow us on Twitter
4) Register with us by clicking on ‘sign in’ (top right corner). You can then receive our daily newsletter AND add your point of view to stories that you read here.
And do share with your family and friends - so they don’t miss out!
Always the first with your local news.
Be part of it