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Norfolk’s move to axe PCSOs criticised by former Met Police commander

PUBLISHED: 08:32 07 December 2017 | UPDATED: 08:32 07 December 2017

Photo:: James Bass.

Photo:: James Bass.

Archant Norfolk Photographic © 2014

A former commander of the Metropolitan Police has criticised Norfolk police’s move to scrap its Police and Community Support Officers.

Chief Constable Simon Bailey. Picture: Mustard TV Chief Constable Simon Bailey. Picture: Mustard TV

Lord Blair of Boughton, an independent crossbench peer, made the comments in the House of Lords as he talked about the importance of community policing in tackling the threat posed by extremists.

He argued that Norfolk Constabulary’s proposal to axe all 150 PCSOs was “failing in an approach” and said community policing was “a vital part of the counter-terrorism process.”

Proposals announced by Norfolk include axing all 150 PCSOs, closing seven stations and shutting front desks to the public.

The 150 PCSOs at risk would be replaced with 81 new police officers and 16 non-officer roles as part of a move which would save £2m a year and follows the biggest review in the force’s history.

Former Metropolitan Police Commissioner Lord Blair. Pic: Lewis Whyld/PA Wire Former Metropolitan Police Commissioner Lord Blair. Pic: Lewis Whyld/PA Wire

Norfolk chief constable Simon Bailey has said it was “one of the toughest days in his career” when he had to inform PCSOs their jobs were at risk, but that it was “the right thing to do”.

And he has previously said being able to employ police officers, rather than PCSOs, would help combat the terror threat.

He said the decisions had come down to costs and circumstances.

He said the cost of employing a PCSO was no longer significantly less than employing a PC - with the difference less than £2,000 a year.

He said: “With such a small difference between the two roles, I have to consider the difference in powers and flexibility which warranted officers bring.

“When faced with a budget reduction of £30m since 2010 and a further challenge of £10m still to save, I have no choice but to look at the 80pc of our budget which I spend on people. This inevitably leads to a reduction in officers and staff and with fewer employees; you need the maximum flexibility and powers.

“The second major reason is circumstances. The world of 2017 is vastly different from the world that existed when the role of PCSO was created. Do you remember a world without Twitter, or Facebook? When PCSOs first arrived in 2002, neither of these things existed, nor the terror threat with which we are now confronted.

“Unfortunately for the role of PCSO, the impact is also seen in the developing cyber world, in sexual crimes, in the unprecedented increase in reports of adult abuse and child abuse and in our own exploitation of technology to combat crime and arrest criminals.

“The need for a warrant and the need for the powers, training and equipment to face up to these threats are greater now than it has ever been.

“In the last 12 months, Norfolk Constabulary has had to meet the challenge of raised terror threat levels twice. This requires a surge in police officers but also requires us to continue to have enough other police officers to keep Norfolk safe.”

More than 2,000 people have signed a petition calling for the government to fully fund the force so that the PCSOs do not have to be axed.

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