Justice suffering the same fate as shops

On first sight this seems s strange comparison to make but when I look at the latest developments in that regular Police Officers are more and more replaced by less trained and qualified PCSO I immediately think of the shopping assistant syndrome, at least that is what I call it.

The deterioration of the shopping assistants’ job is the best example to show how customer care deteriorates in private profit making establishments. When I was young, you needed to do a 3 1/2 years apprenticeship to call yourself a book seller; today you just start working in a book shop. When you go into a shop as customer it is often hard to find a shopping assistant with good product knowledge, sometimes they don’t even know which shelf to look at.

That is about the same as putting less qualified police officer replacements on the beat. And those less qualified officers get more powers of arrest. The same type of policies are put through all types of services, nurses get more doctor’s responsibilities too.

But the big difference is when we compare professions, it is not just the lesser qualification that gives people more responsibility to save money, it is the working pattern that sets PCSO’s apart from the rest.

With shopping assistants as well as nurses you get set working hours and a service that is open at regular hours, hours that are transparent to all of us but with PCSO’s you get to find that they have shift patterns we do not get to know publicly. They only work so and so often and we cannot rely on them to actually be there when we need them. Whilst the PCSO is supposed to be the local link between police and the population we get a high frequency in staff turnover and in population turnover because tenancy agreement times have become shorter.

At the same time whilst those less qualified PCSO and other supplementary officers get higher powers of arrest, we get a streamlined justice service that tries to squeeze trials within a 6-week time frame, defendants are asked to enter guilty or not guilty pleas without getting to see all evidence against them, which is feared leads to miss-carriage of justice.

What we end up with is the type of Community Enforcement Officer or PCSO that is rough an ready to confiscate, arrest and engage in restraint, less time to conduct trials and hi presto we have the streamline justice system that produces quickly sentenced trouble makers who are put behind bars or transferred to “voluntary” work schemes to keep them out of trouble. You won’t know who in your community is a genuine volunteer or who is sentenced to do unpaid work.

It is particularly concerning that local people are encouraged to ring their local SNT team with local problems not knowing whether they actually work at that time. Often callers get confronted with long answer machine messages that puts anybody off from leaving a message.

At the same time the police also promotes people ringing the 101 number in non urgent cases and SNT teams are more integrated with regular police teams. So why distinguish between an SNT  number that might not be manned and an 101 number that is always manned?

The 101 operator can always pass a call onto a local SNT team when he knows they are on shift, which is a much better system than asking the people to ring a SNT team that might be off shift and that often puts people off from reporting crime. That opens the question, why do we need SNT teams at all, when we just can have the local police officer that is stationed at the local station and patrols his area? Local officers that work regular hours and not some silly shifts whereby the shift-patterns are only known to the police themselves.

It was always a frequent complaint that SNT officers are not long enough in the job to actually get to know their community. In London it is no longer than 1 year and in the counties it is 2 years. But looking to replace the regular police officers with more SNT PCSO officers who are not always working is irresponsible to say the least.

I don’t think any Neighbourhood Watch can function properly in a busy inner-city area with lots of problem, which are often compound, persistent and complex. Taking that residents change a lot and police teams change a lot, there is little continuity and if that is coupled with less training of the officers that can only lead to more problems. There is also no training for Neighbourhood Watchers available at all. Policies change frequently; we have seen lots of changes in policing recently and that always creates grey areas.

If you then get a police meeting that is staffed with half-trained short-stay PCSO officers and residents, which have no training at all but plenty of fears, you get a lot of dissatisfaction on all sides. What public meetings need are highly qualified local police officers who can assure the public that the law is in safe hands and who through their sincerity encourage people to approach problems systematically an calmly and not rough and ready PCSO and other officers who just man-handle subjects to stop a situation.  Then we get the problem that officers shift problems from one geographical area to another and the area with the least resistance gets it all.

I think Britain deserves better than that and I cannot blame for people being discouraged from wanting to attend SNT meetings. There is little point in getting to meet a newly recruited PCSO who stands around your street corner for 10 minutes at a time to discuss a problem that takes half hour to explain either.

Taking all those points into account I felt myself unable to continue acting voluntarily for the Tower Hamlets Neighbourhood Watch Association and also feel unable to continue acting as Neighbourhood Watch coordinator.

Please do not understand me wrong, there are some excellent PCSO officers but there are also quite a few who just want to get stuck in.

Of course it does help that the government wants  to curb irresponsible selling of alcohol and it does help that more acceptable behaviour contracts are drawn up with local residents but that is hardly discussed with locals because of confidentiality concerns.

Neighbourhood Watch hardly even gets to know which social landlord administers which estate, but if a council does not provide that essential administrative back-up then there is little point in having Neighbourhood Watch. There needs to be some permanence in a service and if in a borough neither the council nor the police provide that permanence then a load of civilians who try to keep a check on things cannot achieve a lot because they have no access to information.

The Police just try to out-source whatever they can to cope with less money and councils also have cuts to incorporate and no spare cash laying around.

In the end the individual residents have to take charge of their own lives and if everybody just keeps their own little area clean and safe then our whole country would be crime free in no time at all.  It concerns me a great deal that policing priorities are set according to the amount of calls an area receives from concerned residents. What if in an area the residents do not care about crime but actually welcome it. The police won’t get complaints and so do very little to police the area,which is a bad strategy. I can see that with SNT panels  now those areas with the most engaged residents attending the panel meetings get the most police attention whilst others are left to rot with the crime. That is not the quality of service I would expect from the police to happen. I cannot see that such panels actually help and I cannot see how any committees can achieve anything because nobody gets to see the police records and cannot even follow the route of the crime or whatever is involved.

The police should police an area adn give an area as much attention as needed because they see that there is crime going on. the tell tale signs of crime are easy enough to detect and measures must be taken to stop for an area to rot into anti-social behaviour whether the residents complain or not.

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