Why Hampshire Police are keeping PCSOs

(l-r) PCSO Chris Dove, Sgt Garry Smith and PCSO Jason Boulton.''Picture: Sarah Standing (151465-3307)
(l-r) PCSO Chris Dove, Sgt Garry Smith and PCSO Jason Boulton.''Picture: Sarah Standing (151465-3307)
Chief Inspector Sharon Woolrich

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Heavy budget cuts and stretched resources have left police forces facing tough decisions.

Many forces – West Midlands, Scotland Yard and Nottingham – have already announced they will cut PCSOs in their safer neighbourhood teams.

But in Hampshire PCSOs have been ring-fenced since police and crime commissioner Simon Hayes took office in 2012.

And despite threats of a further £40m to £65m cut to Hampshire Constabulary with the potential loss of 800 to 1,200 staff and officers, Mr Hayes says he is keeping the 334 community officers.

Far from axing them, he hopes to expand their role with more work in restorative justice and tackling anti-social behaviour in young people in their communities.

‘They get to know the communities and the community gets to know them in an old-fashioned type of policing role,’ Mr Hayes says.

‘And because they are working in the community they are not taken away to some other policing emergency or whatever, they are there and will be there.’

It is a view backed by the chief constable Andy Marsh.

He told The News: ‘It’s important, if we think about what we do from local reassurance to the management of local offenders, right through to dealing with serious organised crime and terrorism, neighbourhood policing has got a role.’

This ‘old-fashioned’ role that PCSOs have, along with PCs on safer neighbourhood teams, is one that gets them out and about – a lot.

The News joined two PCSOs on patrol on the Barncroft and Bedhampton beat covering parts of Havant and Leigh Park.

The team is made up of four PCs and four PCSOs, with a sergeant in charge.

In just one month the team went to 76 incidents – ranging from the theft of a washing machine to a person who could hear screaming.

In an unmarked police car – no blue lights, they are not allowed – PCSOs Jason Boulton and Chris Dove keep a watchful eye on the area on their 1pm to 10pm shift.

Checking Bidbury Park is one of the first ports of call, followed by checking for unlocked cars and those with windows open in public car parks across the area.

A broken-down car obstructing the Rusty Cutter roundabout prompts a call-in to police control to alert a roads policing unit to help the driver and his young son in a precarious position.

As their boss Sgt Garry Smith said: ‘They live and breathe the beat, they know the area so if something happens – they know.’

Jason, 28, who covers Leigh Park, and Chris, 30, who covers Bedhampton, are both passionate about tackling the wide range of problems they encounter.

While they do not have the power of arrest they have a small arsenal at their disposal to prevent issues.

In Norden Way, Havant, Chris says residents have complained about children gathering around.

He said: ‘We have a lot of problems with kids congregating round the houses kicking balls. We’ve got dispersal orders we’ve used.

‘An inspector can order dispersal up to 48 hours.’

The orders mean the children are banned from the area for a few hours – anyone who comes back can then be arrested by warranted officer colleagues.

Jason added: ‘It’s been successful – it just gives the residents a bit of a reprieve.’

But Chris added: ‘It’s not a long-term solution but it gives people a reprieve.’

Another tool they have available is acceptable behaviour agreements.

The agreements need the support of the person whose behaviour is trying to be changed. They must promise to stick to rules specific to the problem.

Five have been used recently. Breaching one is not an arrestable offence but can help build up a case for a civil injunction.

‘It’s the bottom rung of the ladder,’ Chris says.

‘If that solves the problem then it’s five minutes work and solves it.

‘I’ve used them for two neighbours who had issues where the wheelie bins were put in the shared driveway.

‘One couldn’t get the car down the driveway.

‘I put in an ABA saying “you must keep it clear”.

‘They run for six months – this ran for a year in total and that’s just cooled everything.’

The two neighbour couples in that case ranged from their 50s to their 70s.

While it may seem a situation that perhaps many would question why police were involved, Jason and Chris believe this kind of preventative work stops further escalations.

Chris added: ‘Sometimes it gets blown out of proportion and leads on to greater things which can be arrestable offences.’

Sgt Smith adds: ‘The work we’re trying to do is to prevent. Prevention has got to be better than cure, it’s better to work with them before.’

Roles ring-fenced

THE roles of more than 330 PCSOs have had their roles ring-fenced against cuts to Hampshire Constabulary.

The county’s police and crime commissioner Simon Hayes is determined to keep the 334 positions.

Mr Hayes said: ‘The role of PCSOs is very important in neighbourhood policing and I hope that at Hampshire we will be able to develop that role and have them working in delivering restorative justice projects and reducing anti-social behaviour in young people.

‘I have plans for them and I’m keen that we should keep them and they are money well spent.’

Mr Hayes believes their roles could be expanded to deal with low-level anti-social behaviour as it happens.

He says this is good for victims and can prevent further offences.

He added: ‘We need to give them training and we need to give them understanding but that’s where I see their role developing.’

Currently PCSOs are funded by the police but some councils are stumping up the cash.

Mr Hayes said he is not asking for councils to do so but is open to talks.

He added if PCSOs were lost then it would be hard to build up or replace the work they do again in the future.

‘Once that’s gone it’s going to be very difficult to do that again,’ he said.

‘Things will get better in policing in years to come but I’m keen that we are in the right place.’