South Yorkshire Police in row with unions over proposed cuts to PCSOs

A row has broken out between police chiefs and union leaders over proposals to reduce the number of PCSOs on South Yorkshire’s streets.

Wednesday, 3rd April 2019, 9:58 pm
Updated Thursday, 4th April 2019, 3:49 pm

Unite today claimed the plans were part of cost-cutting measures which would lead to a dramatic reduction in visible neighbourhood policing.

But South Yorkshire Police insisted no decision had been made and any cut in the number of Police Community Support Officers would be counteracted by an increase in warranted officers.

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Unite claimed several of the ‘cost saving options’ being considered by South Yorkshire Police would involve slashing the number of PCSOs, reducing their hours to 9am-5pm Monday to Friday, giving a ‘green light’ to criminals outside those hours.

The union said if those proposals were adopted, PCSOs - whose annual wages it said range from £21,507 - £23,361 - would lose £450 a month as they would no longer receive shift pay, leading many to seek alternative employment.

Unite South Yorkshire police branch secretary Andrew Whysall said: “These changes will effectively slash visible policing in areas which have already been severely hit due to government cuts.

“By reducing PCSOs to office hours Monday to Friday, South Yorkshire police are effectively giving a green light to criminals to break the law and commit anti-social behaviour outside these hours.

“These proposed cuts will cause huge financial misery to our members and will force many to vote with their feet and leave their jobs, further damaging policing in South Yorkshire.

“The senior command team in South Yorkshire need to understand the key role that PCSOs play and preserve their roles for the good of local communities.”

Unite said police chiefs estimate cuts to PCSOs could save £1.1 million a year, which would be used to fund neighbourhood PCs, who it said are ‘significantly’ more expensive than PCSOs.

South Yorkshire Police, however, said PCSOs earned on average more than £27,500 including allowances, which is considerably more than the starting pay of less than £20,500 for a police constable.

Only after four years’ service did a PC earn more than a PCSO, it claimed, and even taking into account the extra training an pension costs, PCs were cheaper than PCSOs for their first two years’ service.

Unlike warranted officers, PCSOs do not have powers of arrest and cannot interview or process prisoners, or investigate crime, but they can hand out fines for offences including littering and demand the name and address of someone causing anti-social behaviour.

Their duties include dealing with minor crime and anti-social behaviour like graffiti and abandoned vehicles, supporting victims of crime and working with the community to improve safety within neighbourhoods.

In a lengthy statement, South Yorkshire Police accused the union of making ‘inflammatory and inaccurate statements’ about the ongoing PCSO review.

“To suggest any of the options would cause the police presence to disappear, or that it will affect the levels of criminality outside of office hours is completely misleading, as it ignores the fact that any reduction in PCSOs will see them replaced with police officers who, unlike PCSOs, can be deployed 24 hours a day, 365 days a year,” said the force.

“The unions have been involved in this review from the outset. They are fully aware this is not a cost saving exercise and will see an enhanced neighbourhood policing function, providing the public with the service they have told us they would like to see.”

The force said it valued the work of its PCSOs but had to listen to what the public wants, much of which it said requires the powers of a PC.

It concluded: “We hope to continue this review in a constructive manner, but the public should be reassured that any decisions we make will be in their best interests and reflective of what they have told us they want.”