The fight to save Burnley and Pendle’s PCSOs

Can you imagine walking down the street and lowering your head so you don’t accidentally look at the gang on the church wall and start a scene? That could be the future if we lose our men in yellow vests, our invaluable Police Community Support Officers (PCSOs).

Tuesday, 4th January 2011, 3:08 pm

However, the festive season could bring good news to Burnley PCSOs and if local government say they can afford to keep them, they can go ahead with plans to fill their Christmas stockings!

On the thirteenth day of Christmas my true love said to me; “Overall police funding escaped the clutches of a 6% cut;

“This offers some glimmer of hope for PCSOs who have been under the falling axe recently;

“But it’s up to local authorities if PCSOs face the chop in the future.”

The dark threat to the future of PCSO jobs comes from their funding being a mixture of both specific government grants and money from local councils, and the impact of the Comprehensive Spending Review on their budgets.

Malcolm Doherty, chairman of Lancashire Police Authority, looks back over the roller-coaster ride of the past few months.

“We are delighted to see the funding for PCSOs has been ring-fenced for two years as we appreciate how much they are valued by our local communities. This is very positive news indeed,” he said.

“While it is fact that many PCSOs are part-funded by our partners, and we fully appreciate the financial difficulties they too are facing at this time, we intend to work together to come to a satisfactory solution that meets the needs of local residents.”

Meet Burnley Stoops Estate resident Joe Heffernan, who is 45. He’s one of many who know that without the visible presence of the police, “hoodies” could start to congregate in the streets and get up to no good.

“PCSOs do tremendous work on our estates,” he said. “Our area needs front line policing, we can’t just rely on 999 calls, it’d be big devastation to the local people in some areas without them.

“It’s good to know PCSOs know who the offenders are, who in turn know they can be targeted, otherwise it would open the floodgates and people would start to feel unsafe.”

Burnley Council Leader Charlie Briggs mulled over PCSOs’ nickname “plastic policemen”, because of their lack of power, and suggests more Community Beat Managers (who can make arrests) could be good if there was a fatter public purse.

“I’m not knocking PCSOs, I think they’re fantastic,” he said. “There’s a lot of arguments for and against keeping PCSOs.

“It’s a dilemma because now we’ve to work out value for money, what other service cuts would happen instead, and the current funding announcements.

“There is a need for PCSOs, and we’re hoping to get the funding as these types of police are key for Burnley.

“PCSOs go that extra mile and they don’t have to, they can hide themselves away if they chose to.”

Coun. Briggs gleams with pride over his Gannow PCSO, adding: “I’ve got to know her and she’s brilliant - I phone her up and she’s there for me if I have any problems, within 24 hours or when she comes back on her shift.

“When I ask her to do something she’s spot on, absolutely brilliant,” he said.

Picture a female PCSO in her 30s, due to have her first-born in the New Year, having to endure the winter not knowing how she will afford nappies if funding was snatched away.

No more walking the cobbled streets of Burnley’s back alleys to fetch the youths who she knows, nine times out of 10, will be responsible for damaging “Mr Victim’s” newly-painted fence.

What a relief knowing Neighbourhood policing teams may remain on our streets, with 427 PCSOs across Lancashire costing £220,000 a week, as the initial target to cut an estimated £50m. from police funds over the next four years may not be set in stone.

Lord Antony Greaves, of Lancashire and Pendle Council, is no stranger to the fact general trends have helped reduce crime in some Pendle areas in recent years, but he credits the successful PCSO system.

Giving praise to monthly Police and Communities Together (PACT) meetings, he was outraged at the thought of cutting the PCSO service: “It’s not up to central government, it is up to people how they want to spend their money.”

Who else near Stoops Estate in Burnley knows where potential drug-pushers hang out? Who else around Lowerhouse could notice grooming of under-age girls? And who from Burnley Wood is on the other end of a mobile phone and can earn respect from those committing anti-social behaviour?

Maureen Le Marine, Unison branch secretary at Lancashire Police, declared to the Yorkshire Evening Post in October: “Let’s be clear, PCSOs are value for money. PCSOs are the visible presence on our streets dealing with local crime, anti-social behaviour and gathering vital intelligence.”

And Pendle Councillor David Whipp believes the campaign to keep community support officers had a lot of strength because community safety is high on people’s Christmas list.

“If PCSOs are cut it’ll be a blow to all communities in the county. Residents appreciate how they’ve helped improve people’s quality of life and make their areas safer.

“PCSOs are the friendly face of the police force and a vital link between local people and the harder edge of policing,” he said.

“We must fight to make sure workers on the ground such as PCSOs are given a high priority if public services are being cut.”

Let’s be blunt … few people are affected by murders.

But most of us, from time to time, perhaps suffer from minor crimes. So let’s hope the PCSOs in Burnley and Pendle can continue doing their job. Because without them on a day to day basis the quality of life for those in the community will worsen. And with absent PSCOs ... it’s a great excuse for offenders to do what they do best.