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PCSO skills overlooked by forces College claims with updated guide

Chiefs and supervisors are failing to recognise PCSOs have “essential skills”, says the College of Policing.

The return of neighbourhood policing has been bolstered with more support for PCSOs from the College of Policing.

New guidance for both Police Community Support Officers (PCSO) and supervisors has clearly set out their powers and how they can be used to reduce pressure on response teams.

The College also urged forces to use them to get more integration with health, education and social services partners.

its official approval is aimed at challenging the claim by critics that PCSOs are 'plastic police' with limited enforcement powers. 

The updated handbook, which coincides with the 20th anniversary of their creation, was aimed at ensuring forces – and specifically supervisors better understand their deployment, legislation, and powers.

It was drawn up following consultation with PCSOs and staff associations, and replaces the previous PCSO operational handbook, published in 2019.

The role was created by Section 38 of the Police Reform Act 2002 but the College said their work has evolved as officers have proven how they can be effective.

“As with all other policing roles, fewer resources and newly emerging threats mean they are taking more of a leading role in providing a service to the public,” the College said.

“Publicly facing, they are a trusted visible, accessible, and approachable uniformed presence in communities.”

The role has also been used by some as a route into becoming a Constable and the update standardises entry methods (including the policing education qualifications framework (PEQF). It aligns training and development with the police constable degree apprenticeship (PCDA) developed by the College.

The 32-page handbook standardises entry route methods (including the policing education qualifications framework (PEQF) and aligns training and development with the police constable degree apprenticeship (PCDA) developed by the College.

Inspector Tonya Cook, Frontline Policing Advisor, College of Policing, said: “The updated handbook was designed by the College to make sure their role is more widely understood across policing and within communities. It also allows potential applicants to appreciate the nature of being a PCSO.”

The handbook was reviewed by the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) lead, UNISON and PCSOs prior to publication.

After two decades, the buy-in from forces is mixed – which the College wants to challenge as part of work to standardise operations across England and Wales.

The Welsh government has made a national commitment to increase the number of PCSOs in every force and develop the role. The policy is supported by the Police Federation.

In April, Surrey’s Police and Crime Commissioner announced a cut back on 22 PCSOs.

Norfolk scrapped PCSOs five years ago in a radical change to its operating model but in an about-turn it has now recruited 100.

Lincolnshire revealed in April it is recruiting 14 more officers with the aim of freeing response teams to concentrate on serious offending with PCSOs dealing with post-incident and preventative work in neighbourhoods.

Lincolnshire PCSO, Dave Bunker explained the role to local media: “We are the specialist problem solvers in the community, working with partner agencies to tackle anti-social behaviour and offering reassurance to the public.

"Over the years our powers have increased –we still don’t make arrests but we can now detain someone at the scene of an incident. The role remains the same, though – to engage with the community to build trust and confidence through safer neighbourhoods.”

Hampshire’s Chief Constable Olivia Pinkney backed the new handbook: “PCSOs are core to the brilliant Neighbourhood Policing model we cherish in the UK.”

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