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Police Community Support Officer

Police community support officers (PCSOs) support the police in reducing crime, fear and antisocial behaviour. They are usually assigned to a neighbourhood policing team. They spend much of their time patrolling the community, on foot or bicycle.

PCSOs have fixed powers. They do not investigate more serious crimes, but they play a vital role by:

  • dealing with minor crimes, including vandalism, graffiti and litter
  • stepping in at an early stage to deter crime
  • issuing fixed penalty notices
  • advising on crime prevention and reassuring the public
  • building good relationships with local schools, businesses and community groups
  • carrying out house-to-house enquiries
  • guarding crime scenes until police officers arrive
  • acting as professional court witnesses
  • helping to control crowds at big events.

Most PCSOs work shifts. That includes early, late and night shifts, as well as some work at weekends and on public holidays. Some forces offer part-time and flexible working.

Earnings vary between forces, but start from around £17,000 for new entrants, rising to around £25,000 for the most senior. There may be extra allowances and overtime payments.

PCSOs need:

  • maturity, confidence and motivation
  • to be honest and dependable
  • the ability to listen to, and communicate with, all kinds of people
  • to be able to handle difficult situations and people
  • an approachable manner
  • stamina
  • accuracy, for keeping records
  • an interest in people, the law and police work.

There are around 16,000 PCSOs working in England and Wales. They are employed by the 43 geographical police forces and by the British Transport Police, which looks after railways.

There are no set entry qualifications. Experience of community work, paid or unpaid, may be useful and the Diploma in society, health and development and the Diploma in public services may be relevant.

The assessment process for applicants includes a medical check, eyesight test and sometimes a fitness test.

Successful applicants undergo a training period of several weeks. They learn about the local service and gain skills such as interviewing techniques, evidence gathering and crime scene management.

With experience, it may be possible to gain promotion into a role supervising other PCSOs. Some PCSOs go on to apply to become police officers.

What is the work like?

The role of a police community support officer (PCSO) is to reduce crime, fear and antisocial behaviour in the community.

PCSOs aim to provide a visible and reassuring presence in the neighbourhood. This means they spend much of their time patrolling a particular area on foot or bicycle, in order to become a familiar presence in the community.

Daily tasks vary between police forces. A PCSO's duties might include:

  • dealing with minor crimes, such as vandalism, graffiti, litter, abandoned vehicles and antisocial behaviour
  • intervening at an early stage to try to deter crime
  • issuing fixed penalty notices
  • providing crime prevention advice, supporting crime victims and reassuring the public
  • handling missing persons enquiries
  • dealing with nuisance offenders, such as street drinking or begging
  • building good relationships with local schools, businesses and community groups
  • carrying out house-to-house enquiries
  • collecting CCTV evidence
  • guarding crime scenes until police officers arrive
  • acting as professional witnesses in court when needed
  • helping to control crowds at major events, such as football games
  • keeping records.

PCSOs provide support for the work of police officers. Their own powers are fixed. For instance, they can detain a suspect until a police officer arrives, but they cannot arrest people, interview prisoners or investigate serious crime. However, by being visible and approachable, PCSOs help to prevent trouble, deter crime and make communities safer. For instance, a PCSO might be the first member of the police service that a troublemaker gets to know and talks to personally.

PCSOs usually work as part of a neighbourhood policing team. They support community beat officers in solving local problems. They are in constant touch with key people in the community, and with groups such as Neighbourhood Watch.

PCSOs working for the British Transport Police patrol in stations and on trains.

PCSOs keep in touch with their teams by radio. They do not carry batons, sprays or handcuffs.

Hours and environment

Most police community support officers work shifts, totalling 37 to 40 hours a week. This involves some early, late and night shifts, and work at weekends and on public holidays. Overtime is paid for extra hours required.

Some forces offer part-time and flexible working, depending on their operational requirements.

PCSOs are based at a police station, but spend most of their time out on patrol. They work outdoors in all weathers. They also visit homes and workplaces on their patch.

Their work is often focused on areas that are experiencing low-level crime or antisocial behaviour. PCSOs are likely to face challenging situations, such as people who are drunk or hostile.

A high-visibility uniform is worn, including a hat. PCSOs may also wear a protective vest.

Salary and other benefits

These figures are only a guide, as actual rates of pay may vary, depending on the employer and where people live.

  • Salaries for new entrants start from around £17,000. British Transport Police PCSOs earn £18,911 on starting service.
  • With experience, earnings may rise to around £22,000.
  • The most senior PCSOs, or those working in supervisory roles, may earn around £25,000.

Each police force sets its own pay rates for PCSOs. Salaries in and around London are usually higher. There may be extra allowances and overtime.

Skills and personal qualities

A PCSO must be:

  • mature and responsible
  • confident
  • self-motivated
  • honest and dependable
  • good at listening and communicating
  • able to handle difficult people and situations
  • comfortable working within a team
  • approachable
  • sympathetic, but objective
  • physically fit, to handle long stretches on foot patrol
  • accurate in their record-keeping
  • aware of the confidential nature of police work.

Interests

It is important to have:

  • an interest in people
  • a desire to improve community safety
  • an appreciation of police work and the law.

Getting in

There are around 16,000 PCSOs, working in all areas of the country. They are employed by the 43 geographical police forces and by the British Transport Police, which looks after railways.

Police forces recruit PCSOs at different times. Vacancies and recruitment drives are generally advertised in local press and on the forces' individual websites.

Entry routes

  • PCSOs must be at least 17½ and a British, EU or Commonwealth citizen, or a foreign national with indefinite leave to remain in the UK.

No specific qualifications are required and police are keen to recruit people from a range of backgrounds and with a variety of experience.

Employers may prefer people with an experience of community service, which may be paid or voluntary.

Qualifications in public services or similar subjects may be useful, such as:

  • BTEC First Certificate/Diploma in public services
  • OCR Level 2 National Award/Certificate in public services
  • the Diploma in society, health and development and the Diploma in public services
  • Higher National Diploma/Certificate (HND/HNC) in public services
  • foundation degree in public services, policing or police studies.

As a guide, minimum requirements for entry on to a foundation degree or HND course are normally one A level and three or four GCSEs (A*-C) or equivalent.

Applicants first submit an application form. Those who pass this round are invited to an assessment process, which will include written tests.

Successful candidates undergo a medical check. This includes eyesight test and sometimes a fitness test. A background and security check and a financial check are also carried out. Applicants who have committed certain criminal offences will be ruled out, though people with minor offences are not necessarily rejected. There are no height restrictions.

Training

All PCSOs undergo a training period of several weeks. This is arranged by individual forces and usually takes place locally or at a police training centre. It is less intensive than the training for police officers.

The content includes:

  • an introduction to the local service
  • equal opportunities
  • communications and the use of police communications equipment
  • interviewing techniques
  • evidence-gathering skills
  • crime scene management
  • health and safety
  • first aid
  • personal safety.

Getting on

PCSOs with experience can progress into a role supervising or managing other PCSOs.

The job of PCSO can provide essential skills and experience for those interested in applying to become police officers.

Further information

British Transport Police, 25 Camden Road, London NW1 9LN. 0800 405040. Website: www.btprecruitment.com

National Police Recruitment Team. Website: www.policecouldyou.co.uk

 

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