Policing shake-up will see PCSO numbers slump as more constables work in neighbourhoods

Numbers of PCSOs working in South Yorkshire communities will be almost halved over the next few years but they will be replaced by a greater number of fresh police constables in a move which promises to start a “new era” for the force’s neighbourhood work.

By The Star Newsroom
Tuesday, 04 June, 2019, 17:08
ACC Dave Hartley

Police chiefs say the move is a response to demands from the public for police to get a better understanding of the problems communities face and to take positive action to solve those issues, a task which is challenging for PCSOs because of their limited legal powers.

Under plans now announced by the force, numbers of PCSOs will be reduced by 78 to 116, while numbers of police officers will increase by 103, putting a total of 25 extra staff on duty in communities.

Dr Alan Billings

That total includes 30 extra neighbourhood officers already pencilled in to join neighbourhood teams this year, but the move reverses the balance from the current ratio of two PCSOs to every local PC to give two warranted officers, with the power of arrest, to every one PCSO.

In effect, it means there will five fewer staff working in neighbourhoods as a result of the change – but police insist the impact of having more officers will all them to deliver a more effective service.

Assistant Chief Constable Dave Hartley, who has overseen months of consultation which led to the new policy, said: “It will take two to three years to fully implement. There will be no redundancies, there are no cuts and this is not a cost saving exercise.

“It is about making sure we have the right workforce composition.

“We will have more officers who can arrest, stop speeding vehicles, people carrying weapons can be stopped and searched. With off road motorbikes, they have the powers to intervene.

“I am absolutely confident this takes us to a much better place.

“The chief constable’s ambition is to bring more officers to the front line. Last year we saw more than 1,000 more arrests than in previous years.

“Our (public) confidence levels in neighbourhoods are really low. People say they think we don’t understand what matters most and they don’t see us resolving that.

“Communities say they want highly visible resources, which is PCSOs.

“Then communities say the want to see us doing something about it. PCSOs are not the resources to bring those situations to a resolution.

“This is about the mix between engagement and being seen to take action,” he said.

Some existing PCSOs are expected to transfer and be retrained as police officers and where possible they will return to the communities where they already work, maintaining local knowledge.

Neighbourhood officers will also be ring-fenced within their own remit, so they cannot be diverted to other plug gaps elsewhere when the force is struggling to meet localised commitments.

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South Yorkshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner, Dr Alan Billings, said: “This careful rebalancing will take place over the next couple of years and will be a new era for neighbourhood policing.

“There will be greater visibility and engagement and better enforcement at the times when each community wants it.

“PCSOs will also have stronger supervision and more targeted tasking to enable the right resources to be deployed within communities. I have asked the chief constable to report regularly on the new arrangements to my Public Accountability Board.

*South Yorkshire’s PCSOs still face weeks of uncertainty as work starts to clarify their future shift patterns and how much money they can expect to lose in reduced working allowances.

Police chiefs have promised no redundancies, relying on a combination of natural wastage and staff transferring to work as PCs to make up the 78 jobs which will go in the years ahead.

But those who remain in place will see their incomes reduced – a situation which has alarmed trade union chiefs – because their basic wage is topped up will allowances for anti-social working at weekends and evenings.

It is accepted that some evening and Saturday work will be needed in future, but Sundays have already been ruled out for PCSO duties because much demand on that day is for staff who can make arrests or deal with motoring issues because many calls are drink-related or about off-road motorbikers. Both are areas where PCSO’s limited powers mean they have few avenues open to take action.

“On the change in working hours, there will be some reduction in allowances, we have been working with PCSOs and their staff associations,” said Assistant Chief Constable Dave Hartley.

“We have to listen to our communities but I am really sensitive that there will be some impact on staff.”

One benefit of increasing officer numbers within neighbourhoods is that they are more flexible over working hours without the need to pay additional allowances.

However, ACC Hartley said those officers would not work around the clock because there was enough resilience within the service to cope with the type of crime which happens overnight without their presence.

*The new neighbourhood working arrangements for police in South Yorkshire weld together two previously separate changes for the force and mask an actual reduction in numbers of staff out on the streets.

When this year’s budget was announced, households saw the cash they pay towards policing through Council Tax bills rise by 14 per cent and were told that would help finance 55 new officers, with 40 of them going into neighbourhoods.

Now it has emerged numbers going into neighbourhood teams is actually 30, with the other ten being used for units such as the dog handling team.

But five officers will be ‘lost’ under the neighbourhood teams review because experienced police officers are more expensive to employ than PCSOs, meaning the county will see only 25 additional staff on the streets as a result of the combined changes.

Before this year’s budget was approved, South Yorkshire Police and Crime Panel, a body made up of councillors and independent members to hold the Police and Crime Commissioner to account asked for 90 rather than 55 additional officers, on the grounds that communities needed more police staff.