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Last Updated: Friday, 21 September 2007, 15:18 GMT 16:18 UK
What do community support officers do?
Police Community Support Officer hat
PCSOs in Greater Manchester get five weeks' training
Police chiefs have defended two community support officers (PCSOs) who were present when a boy drowned in a pond. So how much training do PCSOs get and what are their responsibilities and duties?

Detective Chief Inspector Phil Owen, of Wigan CID, who led the investigation into 10-year-old Jordon Lyon's death, said PCSOs were not trained to deal with major incidents such as this.

So what exactly is the role of a community support officer and what training and responsibilities do they have?

An estimated 16,000 community support officers currently patrol the streets of England and Wales.

Usually identifiable by their fluorescent jackets and flat hats, they are intended to deter criminals and reassure communities by their high-visibility presence.

Their focus is on low-level crimes, but they also help regular officers at crime scenes.

Day-to-day, they might be listening to complaints about graffiti, dealing with neighbours' disputes and trying to get loitering youths to move on.

Standardised powers

They are employed by police authorities and are under the direction and control of the chief constable.

As such, each chief constable sets their training requirements and decides on their powers, as well as their uniform and the equipment they can use.

Each officer carries a document which can be presented to a member of the public, if asked, which lists their powers.

However, from 1 December that will change when a standard set of powers and duties for PCSOs is introduced by the government.

This is expected to include powers to:

  • Require a name and address for anti-social behaviour
  • Require people drinking in designated places to surrender alcohol
  • Require under-age drinkers to surrender alcohol
  • Seize tobacco from under-16s
  • Seize drugs and require name and address for possession of drugs
  • Issue fixed penalty notices for littering, dog offences, cycling on a footpath
  • Remove abandoned vehicles, control traffic and carry out road checks
  • Enter and search premises to save a life or prevent serious injury or damage to property
  • Stop and search in authorised areas

    Training is provided locally. There is a national PCSO training package provided by the National Policing Improvement Agency for use by forces.

    Heroic rescue

    Within the Greater Manchester Police force, PCSOs receive five weeks of training.

    That includes communication skills, conflict management, risk assessment, first aid, radio training, court procedures, major incidents and terrorism.

    However, Det Ch Insp Owen, who investigated Jordon Lyon's death, said the support officers had not been trained in "water rescue".

    A first aid training quiz that appears on the unofficial National PCSOs website asks what an officer should do if he were to see a crew member fall into a river off the back of a tugboat to sink without trace.

    The answer it gives is to radio in and call the appropriate services for help.

    It warns against attempting a heroic rescue in hazardous circumstances which would put an officer at risk and stop them from being able to help a casualty.

    It is expected that with the new standardised set of powers, PCSOs will require more training at a greater cost.

    We should do away with PCSOs because they are a failed experiment
    Paul Kelly, chairman of the Police Federation in Manchester

    But the Home Office stresses it does not want PCSOs, which it introduced in 2002, to be a "paler shade of police officer".

    It considers them an important weapon in the drive to tackle anti-social behaviour.

    The hope is that a strong PCSO unit which deals with minor nuisance crimes frees up regular police officers to concentrate on more serious crimes.

    It says it does not want them to take on duties that would remove them from the streets and leave them handling the paperwork involved in many criminal cases.

    However Paul Kelly, chairman of the Police Federation in Manchester, said PCSOs were not capable of dealing with emergency situations.

    "We should do away with PCSOs because they are a failed experiment," he said.




    VIDEO AND AUDIO NEWS
    Community support officers on the beat



    SEE ALSO
    Police defend drowning death case
    21 Sep 07 |  Manchester

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