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Last Updated: Monday, 13 August 2007, 15:51 GMT 16:51 UK
Police force employs 16-year-olds
Generic Police Community Support Officers
PCSOs can detain but not arrest suspects
A police force has defended its decision to recruit two 16-year-olds to work as community support officers.

The move means the teenagers could be given powers to guard crime scenes, issue penalty notices or detain suspects until police officers arrive.

They will also be allowed to confiscate alcohol consumed in public, despite being too young to drink.

Thames Valley Police said the two met the standard, but 12 other forces said they did not employ under 18s.

The teenagers, who are currently undergoing training for their new roles, would also have the authority to direct traffic even though they cannot drive.

What we are not trying to create with our community support officers is policing on the cheap
ACC Nick Gargan, of Thames Valley Police

Assistant Chief Constable Nick Gargan, of Thames Valley Police, said: "If people have the skills, the ability, the maturity and the aptitudes then we can see no reason why we shouldn't recruit them.

"We reject thousands of people who want to come and work for Thames Valley Police, but these two are among the lucky ones who've met the standard.

"What we are not trying to create with our community support officers is policing on the cheap."

Forces in Hampshire, Sussex, Lancashire, Northumbria, Kent, London, Staffordshire, Warwickshire, Cleveland, Durham, Cheshire and Gwent said they did not have any under-18s as PCSOs.

Judged on merit

A spokesman for Sussex Police said he "couldn't imagine" that his force would recruit anyone so young and that no one aged 16 was working as a police community support officer (PCSO) in the counties it covered.

Staffordshire Police said age discrimination legislation meant all applicants for PCSO roles had to be judged on merit, but that it did not have any employees below 18.

Lancashire Police said: "This is a decision made at the interview stage because a lot of the work they do is based on life experiences, and when you're under 18 you haven't got that much."

Northumbria Police said: "Part of their job is to seize alcohol from under 18s, so it would be inappropriate for a 16-year-old to be in possession of something they are not allowed to have."

But a Cleveland Police spokeswoman said: "Anyone who is aged 16 can apply to be a PCSO and their application is treated the same as anybody else's."

Anti-social behaviour

Humberside Police said they also had a policy where 16-year-olds could apply to be PCSOs.

A spokeswoman said: "The youngest PCSO we have currently is seventeen-and-a-half years old."

Merseyside Police said it had no age limits on applicants for the role, but it had not received any applications from 16-year-olds to date.

Unlike the police force, which has a minimum age requirement of 18, there is no national age limit for PCSOs.

The government introduced community support officers five years ago to tackle low-level crime and anti-social behaviour.

A Home Office spokeswoman said: "PCSOs are an invaluable addition to the police forces.

"Police staff numbers are historically high and this, among other measures, has led to crime falling by a third over the last 10 years."


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