Rebuilding the workforce of police community support officers (PCSOs), after almost halving the number in a decade, should be the government’s focus in ensuring people observe Covid restrictions, says UNISON today (Wednesday).
A well-resourced network of PCSOs would mean ministers could call on a ready-made and properly trained team, which is already part of the police workforce, to ensure the public follow the rules during this crucial time, the union says.
Funding cuts have meant PCSO numbers in forces across England and Wales fell from 16,918 in 2010 to just 9,180 this year* – a 46% reduction.
Increasing PCSO numbers would help create a visible and reassuring presence and reduce the pressure on the police to respond to extra pandemic measures, says UNISON.
It would also help ensure wider compliance with the rules, especially where areas move up a tier, or when people appear to be ignoring restrictions or are gathering in large groups.
Earlier this month the government announced £30m in extra police funding for forces in England and Wales to deal with the pressure of overseeing lockdown rules. A further £30m was awarded to councils to recruit so-called ‘Covid marshals’.
This money would be better spent with a longer-term commitment to PCSOs, says UNISON. The union believes it’s an admission of the short-sighted thinking behind the decision to cut their numbers in the first place.
The union has called on the Home Office to push for extra funding for police community support officers ahead of submitting its bid to the Treasury for the forthcoming comprehensive spending review.
UNISON national police and justice officer Ben Priestley said: “Everyone needs to do their bit to contain the virus. That means abiding by the restrictions, whether that’s wearing masks in shops, on public transport and in other enclosed spaces, or abiding by the rule of six in town and city centres.
“Many people aren’t complying because they’re confused by the rules. Others don’t think the restrictions should apply to them. But there aren’t enough police officers to ensure the regulations are properly enforced. That’s why more PCSOs are needed.
“Extra community support officers could prevent the police from being overstretched and help people understand what they should be doing to comply with the restrictions where they live.
“They can also step in to impose fines and stop bad behaviour where necessary. Ministers should make upping the number of PCSOs a priority. ”
Notes to editors:
– UNISON’s submission to the comprehensive spending review on police funding can be viewed here.
– *Figures from Home Office workforce data for 2010 and 2020
– PCSOs work within local communities and try to establish strong ties with the area. The in-depth knowledge developed on the local beat means they’re uniquely placed to encourage positive behaviour.
– UNISON is the UK’s largest union, with more than 1.3 million members providing public services – in education, local government, the NHS, police service and energy. They are employed in both the public and private sectors.
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