PCSOs hand out just one fine in a year

POLICE community support officers in Suffolk solved just five crimes and handed out only one penalty notice in the space of a year, it has emerged.

POLICE community support officers in Suffolk solved just five crimes and handed out only one penalty notice in the space of a year, it has emerged.

The figures, released under the Freedom of Information Act, relate to the combined efforts of 140 PCSOs in the county between April 2007 and March 2008.

The role of PCSOs has previously come in for criticism over concerns they are ineffective and do little to tackle low-level offences and anti-social behaviour they were brought in to deal with.

Suffolk Police Federation said the figures were “not massively impressive” and argued the money would be better spent on new police officers.

But Suffolk's Assistant Chief Constable said PCSOs were the “backbone” of new neighbourhood policing teams introduced in the county and their impact had been “enormous”.

PCSOs cannot arrest offenders but have the power to detain them until police arrive. They can also issue fixed penalty notices for offences such as public disorder and anti-social behaviour.

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Matt Gould, chairman of Suffolk Police Federation, said he would prefer to see money spent on PCSOs - between �16,000 and �24,500 a year each - be spent on a lesser number of police officers.

He said: “The figures are not massively impressive in terms of detecting crime and issuing penalty notices.

“It's police officers who detect crime and issue fixed penalty notices for disorder on the streets.

“It is their job to reassure the community although police officers do that as well and, I would argue, do it better than them.”

But Gary Kitching, Assistant Chief Constable, said the key to effective policing was having the right balance of warranted officers and PCSOs.

“I believe PCSOs are the backbone of our safer neighbourhood teams, the difference made deploying them has been enormous.

“I think they are the face of Suffolk's policing on the streets, they really are integral in general problem solving, dealing with nuisance youths and anti-social behaviour.”

He added: “Sometimes if you try and reduce things to pure statistics it does not always work - this is about people in Suffolk feeling safe and I think PCSOs are essential to that strategy.

“If you start boiling it down to bold statistics I think you miss the point.”

Mr Kitching said 20 PCSOs in Suffolk were part-sponsored by local communities because of the “positive impact” they have had on their areas.

The number of PCSOs in England and Wales has doubled in the past two years to 15,805 at March 2008.

A Home Office spokesman said: “Police Community Support Officers play a crucial role in neighbourhood policing teams, directly engaging with local communities and dealing with low-level crime and anti-social behaviour.

“Issuing penalty notices is just one of many things they can do to tackle the crimes that concern communities.

“To judge them on how many penalty notices they issue is not an effective measure of their ability to tackle crime.”