PCSO "Steve" - here to help, unless you're drowning...
The tragic story of the 10 year-old boy who drowned in a pond whilst two Police Community Support Officers (PCSOs) looked on without helping because they were not appropriately trained, presents a damning dilemma for the whole PCSO system.
The first horn of the dilemma is that we are clearly not employing the right people to be PCSOs. The type of person that we would expect to be employed as PCSOs would be the kind of person who, on seeing a draining child, would move swiftly to try to save the child - whether in uniform and on duty or not. That these two officers did nothing as the boy was left to drown proves that we are not employing the right people to be PCSOs.
Hugh Orde, the Chief Constable of the Northern Ireland Police Service (formerly the RUC), successfully prevented the introduction of PCSOs in the Province some years ago after arguing that guarantees on the quality of recruitment were not strong enough. With the threshold for entry so low, there was a serious danger of paramilitary infiltration into the police (Iraqi-style...). Needless to say, this opposition has been sidelined and they are now being introduced there as well anyway.
The second horn is that the regulation governing the behaviour of PCSOs seems so restrictive that it stops them from doing an effective, worthwhile job. If the first horn is incorrect, and we are indeed employing the kind of people suitable to be PCSOs then the only reason these two officers failed to rescue the drowning boy was that they were wearing PCSO uniforms and felt obligated not to deviate from the rule book.
So PCSOs are incapable of doing a good job either by their own inappropriateness for the role or because they are ridiculously over-regulated (or both). Whatever horn you take, the 14,000 PCSOs that have been recruited since 2000 cannot be relied on to do a good job, they don't solve crime, and they are therefore a waste of taxpayers’ money, preventing the hiring of more credible and qualified sworn officers. Add to this the fact that criminals and increasingly the public do not respect them (not helped by scandals like this), and the conclusion is clear: further PCSO recruitment should cease.