Andy Stenning worked as a police officer for a number of years. He retired and started work as police staff. He is now branch secretary of UNISON’s Sussex police and justice branch.
And he is very worried about the future of British policing, warning that the way we’re headed could make us vulnerable to terrorist attacks.
Cuts to policing = rising crime
Across England and Wales, police forces have had their funding cut, and crime is now on the rise. Some £2bn was taken from policing in real terms between 2010 and 2016.
Government figures from 2014 and 2015 show that violent crime has risen by more than a quarter, and sex offences by more than a third.
Funding cuts led to the loss of 40,000 policing jobs, which include a 30% cut in police community support officers, 20% fewer police staff jobs and 13% fewer police officers.
The loss of PCSOs is something Andy is particularly worried about, because he knows the importance of community policing.
“Policing in this country is based on what the community gives the police to work with,” he says.
“You solve a crime by knowing the people on your beat to go and talk to about what has happened, and you’ll find out information that leads you to the offender.”
When Andy was a police officer he had a ‘beat’ that he patrolled and kept safe. Then, changes to policing meant PCSOs largely took over that role, becoming “the eyes and ears of the community”.
Now cuts to PCSOs and the changes to their roles mean Andy is worried we will lose community policing all together.
In Sussex, 264 PCSOs are facing a redundancy situation. They’re being offered a new role, but it is not as focused on community policing.
“The community side of the PCSO role is diminishing,” says Andy.
“They’re taking PCSOs away from communities. They’re putting them in hubs, running them as teams, rather than as individual PCSOs responsible for wards and beats.
“The PCSOs are stressed and angry. They’re voting with their feet, they’re leaving the role, they’re very stressed. It’s not good.”
“The eyes and ears of the counter-terrorism branch”
In particular, warns Andy, the reduction in community policing could harm our defence against terrorism.
“If you look at counter terrorism, PCSOs are the eyes and ears of the counter terrorism branch, they are engaging with all communities, and learning about what’s going on.
“They have what we call ‘local intelligence’ that in crime situations leads us to offenders, and in terrorist situations to the terrorists.”
“The reason why nobody knew about Paris, and Paris was so bad, was that the French police and the Belgian police and the continental police in general don’t have community policing like we do.”
Andy is also worried about the cuts to other police staff, and how that will affect the safety of communities.
In his branch, 190 criminal justice staff are in a redundancy situation, including 150 prosecution case workers. Around 60 to 70 of them will lose their job.
“Prosecution caseworkers are the people who build files for court,” he says.
“A policeman brings an offender in on an arrest, does the initial statements, then that file gets passed to another team to build the evidence up for court.
“The policemen have got to be retrained to do that, which means they’ll be taken off the streets to build the case for all their court files.
“It can take two days to build a file, and that’s on the easy ones.”
Have your say over policing in your community
You can have your say over who makes decisions about policing in your local area by voting for your police and crime commissioner in England and Wales, excluding London where the mayor is responsible.
The vote is on 5 May and you must be registered to vote by 18 April.