PCSOs could have their uniforms standardised
Police community support officers (PCSOs) may be granted extra powers, Home Secretary Jacqui Smith has said.
She stressed that PCSOs were not a replacement for police officers, but that they could play an important role.
Expanded powers could include detaining a suspect until a constable arrives, imposing a fine for daubing graffiti and dispersing troublemakers.
PCSOs were introduced to England and Wales in 2002. There is no equivalent in Scotland and Northern Ireland.
As well as granting them additional powers, the government wants to make the public more aware of the role of PCSOs, and standardise their uniforms to make them easier to recognise.
In Spetember last year two PCSOs were criticised after Jordon Lyon, 10, drowned as they stood at the side of a Wigan pond because they were not trained to deal with the incident.
Speaking to the Unison Police Staff Conference in Glasgow, Ms Smith said: "PCSOs are not a replacement for police constables. I am clear that PCSOs should not be given the power to arrest, that must remain a power for constables alone.
"Instead PCSOs play a distinct and vital neighbourhood role providing high visibility patrol, community engagement and problem solving."
She added: "PCSOs don't damage police officers in the eye of the public. I do sense a move away from some of the denigration of the role of PCSOs that I know has gone on previously and I will continue to make the argument for the role of PCSOs."
The proposals for expanding the remit of PCSOs are contained in the Policing Green Paper, titled From the Neighbourhood to the National: Policing Our Communities Together.
Jacqui Smith praised the efforts of police staff
Ms Smith praised police staff, who include control room and front desk staff and forensics officers, and said they played a key role in delivering a good service to the public.
"The roles you undertake are crucial to delivering not just effective policing, but in securing the highest levels of customer service to the public," she said
She also touched on a three-year pay deal for police officers in the UK, and said it was "one of the fairest deals in the public sector".
A pay settlement for police staff is under negotiation.
Unison said it has been calling for enhanced powers for PCSOs and for standardised uniforms, including stab vests, to make them more recognisable to the public anywhere in the country.
Ben Priestley, Unison national officer for police staff, said: "It was good to hear Jacqui Smith's recognition of the professionalism and expertise that police staff bring to policing in this country."
He added: "They [the public] know that PCSOs are not substitute police officers, but having the tools and powers needed to do their job safely and efficiently will make a huge difference."