POLICE AND CRIME COMMISSIONER’S INPUT INTO THE CONSULTATION
I set out in this document the considerations I would like the South Yorkshire Police (SYP) Review Team to take into account in developing final options for SYP’s Senior Command Team, as part of their PCSO Review.
SOUTH YORKSHIRE BACKGROUND
PCSOs were brought in by Lord David Blunkett when he was Home Secretary and MP for Sheffield Brightside and Hillsborough. Local people are very proud of this and are generally positive about them. When Neighbourhood Teams were abandoned by the previous Chief Constable in 2015 (to make savings of £8m), PCSOs, being territorial, were the sole remaining face of local policing. This is not forgotten and communities are grateful for the roles PCSOs then played.
Much was then expected of PCSOs. They were highly visible. They were relatively stable. They engaged with local communities, acquiring local intelligence, particularly that which accumulates over years. They built confidence in SYP. In some instances the role began to change because there were no neighbourhood police officers. But there were things that they could not do and which required a police officer. Communities began to find this frustrating. Increasingly it was apparent that withdrawing police officers from neighbourhoods was a mistake. A Neighbourhood Team needs both officers and PCSOs.
REASONS FOR THE REVIEW
When I appointed the current Chief Constable in 2016, I did so on the understanding that he would restore neighbourhood teams. Chief Constable Watson believes passionately in the value of full neighbourhood policing and I commend him for the progress he has made. Her Majesty’s Inspectorate is also complimentary of the Force’s direction of travel.
SYP are now refining their Neighbourhood Policing Service; they want to understand the issues that local people say are important to them, and then identify the best resources to deal with these issues. They need to understand where there is a need for police enforcement powers, like arrest powers, and where we need community engagement roles, e.g. for intelligence gathering, reassurance, deterring anti-social behaviour, or for policing events at weekends, special occasions, Remembrance Day parades, etc. Some of this can only be done by police officers, some of this is best done by PCSOs. But, as I say, a successful Neighbourhood Team needs both.
As part of this work, the Chief Constable has commissioned a review of PCSOs, which I would broadly support. I understand his rationale – since the previous Chief Constable withdrew neighbourhood teams, the role of the PCSO within local policing teams has sometimes become distorted over time. SYP believes there is now an inconsistent Neighbourhood Policing Service across our 4 districts. They believe PCSOs are carrying out a range of activities, some of which PCSOs are well equipped to deliver and some not. SYP therefore believe that things need to change to ensure PCSOs are being used effectively within the Neighbourhood Policing model.
PUBLIC AND PARTNER CONCERNS
Having said I understand the Chief Constable’s reasons for conducting a review, I also understand why our communities – the public and partners – value the PCSOs and the important work they do. These vary from District to District. Many PCSOs are co-located and work together with council officers and other partners on a daily basis – they are part of arrangements that are working well, and we do not want to see this eroded or compromised. In short, communities want policing to get better; not to diminish.
But many of the concerns that communities raise with me at public meetings and through correspondence to my office require local enforcement powers – burglary, speeding vehicles, drug dealing, knife crime etc. and this needs a local police officer response.
I also understand the concerns of dedicated PCSOs working in South Yorkshire, who are highly committed to the work they are doing. PCSOs are well-placed to understand where the demand is, and at what times of the week and day. They understand where local intelligence comes from, where and when local youths congregate, and so on. This is sometimes because PCSOs are a more consistent presence, being moved around the Force less frequently than police officers; they tend to be a constant in communities and the ‘eyes and ears’ that Neighbourhood Policing relies on.
SYP needs to listen to what our PCSOs tell them and be sure any changes will offer the value that PCSOs currently provide. SYP also needs to consider allowing those PCSOs who successfully become police officers to remain in the same Neighbourhood Teams, if they choose to.
SYP needs to be flexible in shaping future shift patterns.
PCSOs have also registered concern about their own circumstances. The Chief Constable has stated that he is not planning to make staff redundant and this needs to be clearly stated in any final options. There is also uncertainty surrounding the possibility of reducing or withdrawing allowances or salary levels and the fear of cliff edges.
I understand how the Chief Constable is seeking to achieve the best and most effective balance of resources to meet demand at specific points in time: between proactive and reactive resources; between Neighbourhood Teams and Response Teams; between the need for engagement and the need for enforcement.
The Chief Constable has also promised that changes will be implemented in consultation with local partners and others, and over a period of time.
The Chief Constable has made it clear that this is not a cost savings exercise, and any savings found will be re-invested in Neighbourhood Teams, so that overall numbers never fall. In achieving this, I ask that SYP consider protecting salaries for a period or tapering any impact salary or allowance changes might have on individual PCSOs.
I have consistently set out in my Police and Crime Plan three priorities for South Yorkshire:
- Protecting vulnerable people
- Tackling crime and anti-social behaviour
- Treating people fairly
In my Plan, I have stressed the importance of understanding local priorities as well as the high demand areas of policing. Neighbourhood Policing Teams work with local communities to understand the policing and crime issues that are affecting their day-to-day lives and working to resolve issues and carry out enforcement as necessary. It is these, often low level, issues that really matter to people and, if addressed, can have a dramatic impact on the lives of individuals and communities.
If these dedicated police teams work well with partner agencies, and keep the support of the public through careful engagement – listening not just telling – they will gather vital intelligence to help other agencies tackle root causes of crime early – i.e. before issues become a matter for the police.
It is an operational matter for the Chief Constable to decide on the mix of police officers, PCSOs, police staff and volunteers he needs to meet the demand for policing in South Yorkshire. But I ask him to listen carefully to the various views provided during this PCSO Review, and for the final decisions to offer answers to the concerns outlined in this document.
Communities have welcomed the restoration of Neighbourhood Policing, and we have built up good working relationships with partners. Any changes need to offer stability and long-term controlled improvements to Neighbourhood Teams.
Dr Alan Billings
Police & Crime Commissioner for South Yorkshire