Vital evidence risks being destroyed because police forces are failing to properly train and protect the support staff who regularly guard crime scenes, says a UNISON report today (Saturday).
The report – Out of Sight and Out of Mind – contains the findings of a new survey that says that nearly two thirds (66 per cent) of police and community support officers (PCSOs) in England and Wales have received little or no crime scene training.
Support staff who responded to the survey spoke of being left alone to protect murder or rape crime scenes, often for many hours, in poor weather and with no access to a toilet, water or food.
UNISON is calling for an urgent review into the guarding of crime scenes by the police. It says that forces are sending PCSOs out alone when they know the staff have limited powers to protect crime scenes or themselves. This leaves them vulnerable to attack or at risk of being harmed, especially if criminals return in an attempt to get rid of incriminating evidence, says UNISON.
Examples highlighted in the UNISON report include drunk suspects returning to a murder scene where police back-up was half an hour away, and a PCSO left alone in a deserted car park to guard a vehicle that had been used in a shooting.
Other PCSOs report being pelted with snowballs filled with stones while on solitary crime scene duty, and another being told to use a hedge when she was menstruating.
Commenting on the report UNISON General Secretary Dave Prentis said: “PCSOs do a valuable job, often keeping watch at serious crime scenes so that police officers can be elsewhere, trying to apprehend the criminals.
“Police support staff are committed to their jobs but want to be properly trained and equipped so they know how to deal with suspects returning to the scene to remove any trace of evidence.
“PCSOs’ welfare must be a top priority, especially when they are out in all weathers, sometimes in remote areas, miles from support.
“We need an urgent review into the training and support PCSOs get. If criminals are to be brought to justice, police support staff must be given the necessary tools to do the difficult job of keeping communities safe from those who break the law.”
NOTES TO EDITORS:
– Out of Sight and Out of Mind is available here
– The survey took place in May 2015, and 1,619 PCSOs responded (55 per cent men and 45 per cent women).
– Police powers are either standard or discretionary. Standard Powers are given to all PCSOs regardless of which force they work for. Discretionary Powers are granted on a force by force basis at the discretion of the chief constable.
– All UNISON press releases can be found at www.unison.org.uk/news/media-centre/
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