Reports that Lothian and Borders Police are set to cut police custody support officers (PCSO) calls into question the Scottish Government’s ability to meet its election pledge to maintain the number of police on the beat.
A total of 36 PCSOs are set to lose their jobs with police officers removed from front-line duties to cover the gap. I blogged last month about statistics which showed that violent crime increased in Lothian and Borders by 15 per cent last year. This makes the fact that police are being taken off the beat all the more worrying.
In the build up to the Holyrood elections in May, the SNP committed to maintaining the extra police on the beat delivered during the last Parliament. However, I am concerned that while the number of police officers may be maintained, they will increasingly be removed from the beat to cover other functions that they are not trained to do while back-office staff are cut.
In the case of PCSOs, there has been concern raised that the transfer of duties to police officers could actually make custody suites more dangerous. PCSOs are trained and experienced in dealing with difficult prisoners and the fact that they are not police officers can help them to calm prisoners down. There was also concern at the suggestion that PCSO tasks could be carried out by officers on light duties due to injury as the role can be physically demanding.
The SNP need to make clear what support they will provide to ensure that police numbers will be maintained and that those officers will be on the front-line rather than filling inappropriate roles.