The 6300 Community Support Officers across England and Wales are to be given greater powers and their number is due to increase almost four fold by 2008. Despite initial concerns about standards of recruitment and lack of police style training they have been well received by the public and proved effective in tackling low-level crime, disorder and anti-social behaviour.At present the powers available to CSOs vary from force to force. This can cause the public to misunderstand their role and in some cases prevent CSOs from playing a full part in neighbourhood policing. It is now proposed to introduce a set of standard powers that will ensure that in all areas they have the powers necessary to deal with issues they are likely to encounter on the street, while leaving the designation of a number of powers to the discretion of Chief Officers. The new standard will include the power to issue a fixed penalty notice for littering or graffiti and to confiscate drugs or alcohol.
The powers of CSOs will also be extended to allow them to take part in truancy sweeps. It is argued that CSOs are well placed to undertake this activity given their local knowledge of children in their area. This was one of a number of measures outlined recently as part of the Government’s Respect Action plan designed to combat the causes of anti-social behaviour and promote respect in society.
The increase in both powers and numbers will allow CSOs to play an increasing role in the Government’s Respect agenda and at the same time free up more police time to deal with serious offences.