Today’s HMIC Report ‘Policing in Austerity: Meeting the Challenge’ bears out UNISON research showing that more than 3,500 front line police community support officer (PCSO) jobs in England have gone since the start of the coalition government.
This is despite a commitment from ministers to protect front line policing.
In its report, HMIC expresses concern over the ability of forces to carry out neighbourhood policing. The report goes on to confirm that PCSO numbers have been slashed by 22%, with 10 forces cutting numbers well above the general 20% cut to police budgets.
UNISON’s research, published in its Trouble in the Neighbourhood report, shows that nine police forces have cut more than 20% of their PCSOs. This includes a 49% reduction in the Metropolitan police, a loss of 2,280 PCSOs in the capital, almost two thirds of the overall cut, 31% in Merseyside and 28% in Essex.*
Only five police forces out of the 39 in England have maintained or increased their number of PCSOs. **
The UNISON research also reveals that 60% of UNISON members working as PCSOs had seen cuts in staff or resources in their police force. ***
As well as a reduction in the number of PCSOs, cuts in supporting roles also impact on front line policing as PCSOs often find themselves covering for these roles and spending less time out in the community.
Ben Priestley, UNISON National Officer said:
“Today’s report is yet further proof that neighbourhood policing is dying on the beat. Cuts to neighbourhood teams are putting public safety and confidence in our police in jeopardy.
“PCSOs play a key role in intelligence gathering, tackling minor crimes and anti social behaviour. They are a reassuring and deterring visible presence in our streets and without them crime is likely to rise, but they are under growing pressure to cover larger beats and often work alone. That is why UNISON is again calling on the Government to fund and maintain neighbourhood policing teams at their 2010 level.”
Comments from PCSOs:
“On my own Safer Community Team, numbers have been cut from 9 to 2; an 80% cut. All of the work we have done over the last decade is unravelling and we are powerless to stop it. Morale is at rock bottom.”
“We now have less staff and higher expectations from the public that cannot be met.”
“At times there are very few officers on the street due to cuts. It’s a struggle to deal with all the jobs that get called in.”
“Crime prevention officers and practical resources have gone. Posts are not being filled when they become available.”
“We no longer work as a team and are left to work alone on a late evening… there is no back up close by if anything should go wrong, so this leaves the PCSO vulnerable.”
“Drastic reduction in vehicles which doesn’t directly impact on PCSOs, but means that warranted officers are further away should we require support. Larger neighbourhoods mean that PCSOs have to travel further on foot and operate more often as a solo foot patrol.”
In contrast to England, there has been a 57% rise in the number of PCSOs in Wales, with an extra 409 posts created, with dedicated funding from the Welsh Government.
Notes to Editors
A copy of UNISON’s report is available here
* PCSO cuts have been 20% or higher in the following nine police forces:
City of London: -71.15%
Met Police: -49.09%
** 87 PCSO jobs were created in England since March 2010.
1 in Wiltshire
3 in Leicestershire
24 in Nottinghamshire
59 in Devon and Cornwall
*** UNISON represents around 6,000 PCSOs in England and Wales. 1,900 of them responded to the online survey – a response rate of almost 30%