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Police Community Support Officers (“PCSOs”) support police officers and provide a uniformed presence on the street. Their purpose is to help the police tackle anti-social behaviour and provide the public with reassurance.
PCSOs were brought about by the Police Reform Act 2002. Their role involves supporting police officers and assisting in the prevention of anti-social behaviours. The majority of time will be spent on patrol and providing a visible presence in local communities. The role is likely to include a variety of responsibilities such as issuing Fixed Penalty Notices, gathering intelligence, dealing with truants or searching people. There are more details of the responsibilities in the following section.
There is a notable distinction between a PCSO and a police officer and while a PCSO is able to detain an individual they do not have the capacity to arrest individuals. Furthermore PCSOs cannot interview or process prisoners or investigate crimes.
The pay system does vary by police force and there is a London weighting applied. The usual starting salary is c.£16,000. You will also be entitled to a benefits package which includes:
- Flexible working hours
- Paid overtime
- A minimum of 21 days annual leave
- Fully paid sick leave
- Access to the Local Government Final Salary Pension Scheme
- A range of life insurance benefits
PCSOs work alongside and support other policing professionals as part of neighbourhood policing teams. The full list of powers available to PCSOs are detailed here, however common responsibilities will include:
- Providing a visible police presence by patrolling local communities and acting as a deterrent to anti-social behaviours
- Providing advice and educating the public
- Dealing with minor offences such as begging, truancy, littering, breech of dog control orders or underage drinking or smoking
- Visiting the public to gather intelligence and offer re-assurance to victims of crime
- Providing advice to and working closely with Neighbourhood Watch Schemes and other community policing initiatives
- Collecting CCTV evidence
- Watching over and protecting crime scenes until the police arrive
- Dealing with initial missing person enquiries
- Acting as witnesses and assisting in the preparation of evidence for trial
- Issuing fixed penalty notices
- Seizing illegal narcotics and other substances classified as controlled under the Misuse of Drugs Act
- Removing abandoned vehicles
- Carrying out Stop and Search under certain prescribed circumstances
- Arrest people (except with reference to the Police and Criminal Evidence Act (effectively a citizen’s arrest))
- Investigate crimes or interview prisoners
You do not need any formal qualification to become a PCSO; however, you will be expected to demonstrate the qualities required via assessment. Current qualities sought are:
- Effective communication
- Community and customer focus
- Team work
- Respect for race and diversity
- Personal responsibility
There is no minimum age but the retirement age for all police staff is 60. You need to be proficient in English but do not have to be a British Citizen. You will, however, need to prove that you have the right to remain without restriction in the UK and EEA. You will be expected to have a reasonable degree of physical fitness and should be prepared to complete a medical history questionnaire and undergo eyesight tests. There are also some restrictions upon tattoos and piercing.
PCSOs will normally receive training from their local force. This is likely to include:
- Training in the relevant areas of the law
- Use of police computer systems
- How to complete appropriate paperwork
- Problem solving skills
- How to use radios and other electronic police equipment
You will need to demonstrate an understanding of community needs and a commitment to team work and tackling anti-social behaviour. You will need to have strong communication skills and a calming, confident and re-assuring manner. You will also need to have acute listening skills, a strong attention to detail and excellent interpersonal skills. This is not an easy role and you will be exposed to potentially dangerous situations.
No prior experience is necessary to become a PCSO but you will have to pass medical and security checks. However, forces may look for applicants with a track-record of social or community service. There is a range of qualifications available in Public Service which may prove beneficial but are not required as such:
- NVQ/SVQ Level 2 in Public Services
- BTEC First Diploma in Public Services
- BTEC National Diploma in Public Services (Uniformed)
- BTEC Foundation Degree in Public Service.
Due to the nature of the role you are going to encounter anti-social behaviour on a daily basis. You will work a standard 37 hour week although you may have to work overtime or shifts. You should be prepared for confrontation and may be both verbally and physically attacked. It is not uncommon for PCSOs to be spat at in certain areas. A significant proportion of your time may be spent on patrol on your own although you may also have occasions where you patrol with other PCSO or police officers. You will be expected to work in all weather conditions.
All PCSOs are employed by the Home Office. If you wish to apply for a post you should visit the Police Recruitment website which provides further information on the application process and current vacancies by police force.
Unlike the standard police, PCSOs do not have a rank structure, although a few jurisdictions do have higher paid positions for PCSO supervisors. The most common progression is into the police force and many people become PCSOs with a long term aim of joining the police.
Other common progressions are into security services or other community service roles.
Also known as…
- Community Support Officer
- Swyddogion Cymorth Cymunedol yr Heddlu – In Wales
- Heddlu Ategol – In Wales
What’s it really like?
How long have you been in this particular job / industry?
I worked as a PCSO for 12 months but am now a police officer .
What did you do before this job?
I worked for Oddbins as a wine advisor, which was a temporary job until my PCSO start date.
What did you do in a typical day at work?
The role, and thus a typical day varies greatly. Supervisors (sergeants) put a great emphasis on the importance of being seen by the general public thereby providing a “reassuring physical presence”, so we are encouraged to get any paperwork done at the start of a shift as quickly as possible and then go out walking on the streets. Generally we are sent out in pairs with another PCSO but sometimes you’ll go out with a Police Constable (“PC”) or on your own.
You are generally asked to evidence what you have done during the day by providing a return of work form. This comes in the form of Stop and Accounts (asking someone to account for their presence and then doing a name check using your radio to see if they are wanted/missing or simply known to police for intelligence purposes) or by issuing Fixed Penalty Notices for offences such as cycling on the pavement (£30 fine.) You can also assist in arrests, using force if you are required to do so, or get involved in whatever comes out on the radio.
If you witness someone being arrested for a public order offence you may be required to submit a statement simply stating what you have seen in case the matter goes to court. You would therefore be acting as a professional witness or in some cases a victim.
PCSOs are not allowed to search people but you can detain someone and call for a police officer to attend if for example you have seen them smoking cannabis or believe they are carrying stolen items.
If you go out with a PC you’ll be playing a supporting role as they are allowed to search people.
We do a combination of day shifts (0800 – 1600 hrs and 1000 – 1800 hrs) and late shifts (1400 – 2200 hrs).
Aside from dealing with criminal offences, as they happen on the street, we are also encouraged to make community visits, thereby reassuring the general public and giving them the opportunity to identify any local issues. One could visit private residences or target schools, old people’s homes etc.
During training it is hammered into PCSOs that they are the “eyes and ears” of the police, meaning they have the time to walk the streets and talk to people thereby gathering intelligence which can later be acted on by police officers. PCSOs can therefore draft intelligence reports based on whatever they are told by the general public.
What did you like about the job?
The job is active as you are generally out on your feet for at least 6 hours of an 8 hour shift. Every day is different and you can use your own initiative and knowledge to govern where you target your patrols, so in that way you are generally your own boss.
What did you dislike about the job?
It can be very boring when nothing is happening. You take a lot of abuse from people (especially youths) who know you don’t have the same powers and training as a police officer. It can also be very frustrating as PCSOs do not have the power of arrest, meaning you always find yourself calling down a police unit to assist. PCSOs also can’t report even the most basic crimes meaning you again have to call up for assistance.
What advice would you give to someone thinking of doing this job?
It is good experience for the police but if you can go straight into training to become a police officer then do that.
What job(s) do you think you might do next?
I only joined as a PCSO with the aim (which I have now fulfilled) of becoming a police officer.