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Last Updated: Thursday, 7 February 2008, 17:11 GMT
Expanding the role of police staff
By Clifford Thompson
BBC News

There are at least 50,000 support staff working alongside police officers in England and Wales. Sir Ronnie Flanagan's review says they could carry out as much as 90% of all police duties - so what do they do, and where do they work?

Police forensic officers
Forensic scientists are classed as police staff

Sir Robert Peel was the founding father of modern policing and established the first organised force - the Metropolitan Police - in 1829.

His officers were known as Peelers, they were armed only with wooden truncheons and wore blue uniforms to distinguish them from the military, factors that led to the philosophy of "policing by consent".

Limited powers

Peel noted that "the police are the public, and the public are the police," by which he meant that they were simply citizens who were paid to "give full time attention" to police duties.

Resource implications need to be thought through
Police and Commercial Services Union spokesman

Today there is a varied range of roles and functions carried out by people who support police constables, who are generally referred to as police staff.

Some are uniformed and some not and their powers vary but they could be inheriting much of the work of officers if Sir Ronnie's plans come to fruition.

The Home Office says there are just over 140,000 police officers in England and Wales.

They are supplemented by 13,000 police community support officers (PCSOs) who regularly patrol with constables, but whose powers are limited.

It was the Police Reform Act 2002 which paved the way for the introduction of PCSOs, who are not represented by the Police Federation.

'Unseen and unheard'

Of the 50,000 unionised police staff 40,000 belong to Unison and 10,000 to the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS).

Police Community Support Officer
There are 13,000 PCSOs in England and Wales

The PCS represents staff who work for the Met, and Unison those who work in forces elsewhere in England and Wales.

The PCS says the work of police staff often goes "unseen and unheard" but is pivotal to the work of police forces. Its membership includes PCSOs, control room staff and scenes of crime officers.

No police force could function without these essential roles, but a PCS spokesman said any move to expand the role of its members would have "resource implications and needs to be thought through".

Training is a concern, as asking reception staff to take statements without a comprehensive knowledge of legal procedures could lead to problems.

According to the Home Office, the number of officers with full police powers is supplemented by another 14,000 special constables, men and women who have a full-time "day-job" but pledge a certain number of hours as a special.

They wear a uniform but are not paid, other than expenses.

Unison broadly welcomes an expanded role for police staff.

A police control officer
An "enquiry officer" in a Hampshire police control room

Caryl Nobbs is the union's chairwoman of Police Staff Service. She runs induction training for Northumbria Police and says there are many roles carried out by police constables that could be devolved to police staff.

She says one example is "where police officers are used as observers in air support units, a role that could be carried out by a police staff employee, as the arrest powers would be rarely used".

She also has concerns about training, but says that many of the union's members are already processing forms and paperwork. Some police staff employed as detention officers can take some types of statement.

'Effective police service'

The Metropolitan Police says there are 200 different roles for what it calls police staff.

Its website says they provide "the organisational capability we need to deliver an effective police service".

Police and forensics officers
Forensic science: officers work closely with police staff

The Met only recognises one union for support staff - the PCS. It says its function is "to negotiate on behalf of admin, executive and most support grades".

The PCS supports staff working in criminal justice, crime management, management support units, intelligence units, finance and human resources.

The union also represents some of the uniformed but not police officer roles: community support officers, designated detention officers, communication officers, traffic wardens and senior reception officers.

Many people reporting a crime will often not come directly into contact with a police constable.

Forces, including the Met, employ uniformed station reception officers who operate the front desks of police stations.

Communications officers are often the first point of contact for the public calling the police by phone. Lincolnshire is one force with a vacancy for such a role.

The job description says: "You will anticipate, monitor and respond to events to provide the optimum level of police response".

Varying salaries

The starting salary for this job is just over 16,000.

Thames Valley police employs 592 staff to deal with 6,500 emergency calls a week and only 9% of them are police officers. One quality it looks for in its staff is an ability to "listen, gain a quick grasp of a situation, elicit relevant information, and communicate quickly and clearly".

The other roles include scenes of crime and forensic staff, and specialists who work on crime investigations.

At present, a PCSO will earn about 16,000 at the start of their career compared with 20,000 for a constable, but salaries vary from force to force.

One job advertised by Nottinghamshire Police, as a fingerprint technician, requires a science degree and has a starting salary of 17,000.

One anonymous contributor to the BBC's Have Your Say website noted that inheriting more duties should include a big pay rise for support staff:

They said: "If I was suddenly expected to do 90% of the work police officers do, I would expect 90% of their pay and other benefits, which would represent a substantial rise on my current pay, therefore negating a lot of the cost saving."



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