I don’t agree with Cllrs Clark and Spooner that PCSOs are ‘as much use as cardboard cut-outs’.
Concerns around crime and anti-social behaviour are often raised with me by residents in my role as a district councillor at Canterbury City Council. Where I differ from Ashley and Colin is that I think the problem lies with the chronic lack of resources, not just in the police but also in all other local support services. Austerity is really evident to me as I try to help local people cope with their daily lives in our community.
Our local PCSOs are deeply embedded in Whitstable and very aware of what is going on. They have helped me to deal with the most acute problems caused by neighbours, of all ages, who are inconsiderate. They have intervened, on a sustained basis in the face of great difficulty, to steer vulnerable young people away from local gangs and into more productive ways of behaving. They have signposted where older people who find it hard to cope with isolation and loneliness can get support. I know this because I have worked with them on individual cases. I have also met with them, with members of our MP Rosie Duffield’s team, and enabled discussion about their work with concerned residents. You’ll no doubt appreciate that this kind of long-term, preventative work does not make it into the local press, nor should it, but I hope you can appreciate that it does make a difference.
Having said that, whether you call it old-fashioned policing or ‘an overt high-visibility community presence’ we do need more ‘Bobbies on the beat’ in this town as in all parts of the district and country as a whole. The loss of this visible presence means that there are not enough living reminders that we need to behave ourselves in public, and in private, so that our community can be welcoming and stay safe. After all, as with most crime or anti-social behaviour, the victim is very likely to be close to home.
For this reason I am part of a local campaign for the reintroduction of town-centre constables in Whitstable which will be launched soon. These constables would be part of the community policing team, working alongside PCSOs and with a close knowledge of the community. I know that local people are reluctant to criminalise the behaviour of those they probably know or know of. They have said to me that they think the solution to anti-social behaviour amongst the young must lie with providing support and guidance so they can help themselves become successful citizens.
With this in mind, Whitstable people are forming residents’ associations or neighbourhood-watch schemes so that our streets and other public spaces are safe and attractive places for all of us, old and young, to meet and chat. Local police and PCSOs are very supportive of this and encourage them just as they encourage people to report any possible criminal activity they witness via 101 or, in an emergency, 999.
PCSOs are just one hard-pressed community service and they are often the last remaining safety net as individuals and families spiral out of control. I would encourage local people to engage with and support them.Personally, I’d like to offer them my sincere gratitude.