A community support officer from the Midlands is worried about the effect of overtime cuts
“My job is different to that of a police officer, and I became a community support officer because I find the role more appealing. While police officers are sent out to catch criminals, I have to understand and reassure a community. I mainly prevent crime, by being visible and making sure people feel comfortable in their area.
We do play a role in crime detection. When I get into work in the morning, I log on to our computer system and see what jobs have arisen overnight; if there have been any burglaries in the area I cover, I’ll visit the people affected and ask whether they saw anything. But it’s just as important that I help prevent crime by, for example, helping people to access anti-crime devices: I can supply them myself, or help people to buy them. I can also put people in touch with a crime prevention officer who will come around to their house, check their windows and doors and make it more secure.
Contrary to some perceptions, in my experience community support officers get on very well with police officers and they respect us. I work closely with them, and they find me helpful because I understand the local area and can tell them all about it. I don’t have the power to arrest somebody, but this isn’t a problem. We can detain people, and always have the ability to radio for police backup. Someone can be arrested because of something they do in our presence.
I don’t have nearly as much paperwork as police officers, either. They have to fill in an awful lot of forms, while my admin workload is much lighter. Community support officers just have to make sure that we’re recording the things we do and who we’ve visited. And that means that I can spend much more time out on the streets.
We hold surgeries for the local communities so that we can ensure we are responding to their needs. We also hold meetings every couple of months, and invite the whole community in an area to come along and discuss local problems that they want tackling. We make a list of priorities according to the problems raised at these meetings. Speeding is a topic that is often raised, especially if it’s near a local school. Speed cameras are portrayed in the media as unpopular, but communities often request that we sit in a trouble spot with a speed gun for a couple of days to act as a deterrent.
I hope that my beat isn’t changed when they reorganise the police force. There are suggestions that the areas patrolled by community support officers may be changed or expanded. This will make it much more difficult for me: I don’t work in the area where I live, because patrolling there could have repercussions for my family, but I have chosen somewhere nearby that is convenient for me to get to.
Plans to cut back on the number of police stations will lead to a problem with police cars being available for us. If I can’t get a car, at the moment I can catch a bus and be in my area quite quickly. If I’m sent to a more distant beat, though, it will take longer to get there from the police station, reducing the amount of time I can spend there.
What’s more, if my area is made bigger then I won’t know my community as well. People come to rely on us, and I find that if I’m not in my area all the time and seeing the same faces, I do lose the confidence of the community.
As yet, there haven’t been any concrete decisions about spending cuts. We are worried, because we’re already using all of our resources to keep crime down. Pretty much everything we are spending money on is a necessity, from police cars to the dog squad. It’s all in constant use.
Cuts to overtime pay will also cause problems, because people will be less likely to work beyond their mandatory hours. If there is an incident, we may end up with people changing shift midway through handling it because those first at the scene won’t be willing to stay on. Personally, I would be willing to stay on and do overtime for a lower rate, but many officers would not.”