The Star Says: Police numbers lead to a wider debate

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Cuts to the police service once again leave both sides of the argument miles apart from each other in their interpretation of the situation.

Today we report that the number of police community support officers in South Yorkshire will fall from 280 to 150.

Unison’s South Yorkshire Police branch, say this will be the ‘death of neighbourhood policing as we know it’ while the Home Office reply with ‘What matters is how officers are deployed, not how many of them there are in total.’

It is hard to be sympathetic with the Home Office’s ‘do more with less’ mantra. Everyone knows people can work smarter and be more efficient, however a point is always reached when the same level of service simply cannot be delivered no matter how clever you are being with the resources – people – at your disposal.

Equally Unison’s assertion about neighbourhood policing also borders on the hyperbolic.

If 280 PCSOs have been single-handedly keeping our neighbourhoods safe across the whole of South Yorkshire then they should be rewarded with Knighthoods not a P45.

Sadly the vast majority of us will know that ‘neighbourhood policing’ is these days no more than a soundbite, used when appropriate to provide a reassuring image of a bobby on the beat.

In the real world a visible presence on your street corner disappeared long ago.

According to the latest figures on the South Yorkshire Police website there are 2,710 police officers backed up by 1,893 police staff. Admittedly these numbers are from 2013 and also display PCSOs as being 325 in strength instead of the current 280.

However, that is still roughly 10 police officers for every one PCSO.

We asked the question last week what kind of city do you want. Well, today we’ll ask what kind of police service do you want?

The first priority of the police should be crime prevention. Once a crime has been committed it is too late for the victim.

Visible policing, providing a reassuring presence and getting to know the ins and outs of a community should be the first job of our police service.

If PCSO numbers do fall then many more rank and file police officers need to be deployed to the streets.

Let’s see them visible once again, connecting and protecting the public who still value their role in society extremely high.