PCSOs are welcome - but not at the expense of police officers
The Cumbrian Police Federation has expressed concern that more Police Community Support Officers in the county may mean fewer fully-trained officers available on the beat.
I can see that there is a valuable role for Police Community Support Officers. There are plenty of things they can do to show a presence and collect evidence. Using them to supplement police officers is a good idea; however, using them to replace police officers is a bad one.
I have sat through more than one debate on this subject in various council chambers. The most memorable interventions came from Councillor John Newman (father of Paul who blogs under the title "Newmania.") John was always very scathing about any suggestion of replacing fully trained and empowered police officers with PCSOs - one of his milder comments was to describe the latter as fake policemen.
The Police Community Support Officers we already have in Cumbria have played a useful role in complementing the work of their other colleagues. The police authority suggests that they want to expand this supportive role. However, the fact that they have not yet managed to carry the police federation with them is not a good sign. If we have to cut something else to provide funding to put PCSOs on the beat the only thing in the police budget I'd be happy to trim back to do it is paperwork and bureaucracy, of which the present government has generated far too much.
Some people reading this may interpret the concerns expressed by Andy Wilson, chairman of the Cumbria Police Federation, as self-interested concern for the jobs of his members. I do not think that would be fair.
The reorganisation proposed does not entail an actual loss of jobs among police officers, but a reduction in the number of police officer posts based in each area of Cumbria as 68 officers are moved into specialist roles in the so-called "protective services" department.
The key test of whether this actually makes Cumbria safer will be whether these transferred officers end up addressing real needs, or whether they end up filling in forms and meeting bureaucratic targets. To coin a phrase, the jury is out ...