End of the foot patrol?

Professor Colin Rogers asks whether the proposal by Norfolk Constabulary to remove the role of police community support officer, if replicated elsewhere, could lead to a loss of the service’s legitimacy.

Nov 1, 2017

Norfolk Constabulary’s recent announcement that it intends to axe all its police community support officer (PCSO) roles and concentrate its resources on tackling growth in complex crimes such as sexual abuse, highlights particular concerns for the police service in England and Wales as it struggles to deal with difficult and growing complex demands within the framework of several years of austerity. The proposal would see the 150 PCSOs leave their posts because their cost of employment has risen to the point where they are only £1,800 a year cheaper than a fully trained police officer, despite their perceived lesser role. Norfolk Constabulary’s chief constable believes the plans would deliver the most responsive service, meeting the needs of communities while protecting the most vulnerable people in society. PSCOs were introduced in 2002 and have far fewer powers than a police officer. They cannot arrest or interview a suspect, for example, but they are cheaper to train. The money saved from their loss, about £1.6 million, would apparently be used to fund 81 new police officers and 16 support staff. In addition to this proposal, the force will also close seven public inquiry counters. It is, of course, understandable that given the budgetary constraints and the growing demand for services in all areas, such a proposal would seem attractive. This apparent retreat to core values or business would allow Norfolk, and other forces should they follow suit, to focus on demand for emergency or immediate response calls, while placing other police officers in a position to tackle growing crimes such as cybercrime and terrorism, and target what are now being highlighted as high harm offences, which include County Lines, modern slavery and travelling criminals. However, PCSOs, while having been used in a number of diverse activities, have primarily carried out the function of foot patrols and have been the backbone of neighborhood policing for many years. Should the proposal by Norfolk Constabulary proceed, if financially successful, and be followed by other forces, the question arises of what happens to the traditional foot patrol carried out by the police and if diminished, what would be the consequences? Foot patrol In its simplest form, patrol in general is a deployment tactic. More precisely, patrol is a technique that involves movement around an area for the purpose of observation, inspection or security. Since it is based on the allocation of officers between spatial areas, it is also a method of organising policing resources and managing policing personnel. Foot patrol was a distinctive feature of Sir Robert Peel’s new policing model introduced in London in 1829 and exported to cities in the US. This preventative, high-visibility approach was to become an entrenched feature of policing in the UK, and through the latter half of the last century the image of the friendly bobby on the beat remained powerful even as officers were increasingly being diverted into new strategic areas. As new technologies such as motorised patrol, radios and the increased use and availability of the telephone began to change the social landscape, including the emergency call system, there was a belief that this would improve police/public relations, as well as improving the morale of police officers. However, and importantly for today’s senior police officers, the reactive style of policing seen by the late 1970s was achieving the opposite, eroding the relationship between the police and the community. Consequently a new and innovative police response was required and this was seen with the introduction of community policing perspectives. In the UK this was supported by Chief Constable John Alderson, with the introduction gaining increased momentum following the publication of the Lord Scarman report into the Brixton Riots in London during 1981. Robert Reiner argued that the concept of community policing became an influential movement among progressive senior police officers in the US and elsewhere.

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