The role of a police community support officer (PCSO) is to reduce crime, fear and antisocial behaviour in the community.
PCSO's aim to provide a visible and reassuring presence in the neighbourhood. This means they spend around 80 per cent of their time patrolling their patch on foot or bicycle.
Daily tasks vary between police forces. A PCSO's duties might include:
PCSO's provide support for the work of police officers. Their own powers are fixed. For instance, they can detain a suspect until a police officer arrives, but they cannot arrest people, interview prisoners or investigate serious crime.
However, by being visible and approachable, PCSO's help to prevent trouble, deter crime and make communities safer. For instance, a PCSO might be the first member of the police service that a troublemaker gets to know and talks to personally.
PCSO's usually work as part of a neighbourhood policing team. They support community beat officers in solving local problems. They are in constant touch with key people in the community, and with groups such as Neighbourhood Watch.
PCSO's working for the British Transport Police patrol in stations and on trains.
PCSO's keep in touch with their teams by radio. They do not carry batons, sprays or handcuffs.
Most police community support officers work shifts, totaling 37 to 40 hours a week. This involves some early, late and night shifts, and work at weekends and on public holidays. Overtime is paid for extra hours required.
Some forces offer part-time and flexible working, depending on their operational requirements.
PCSO's are based in a police station, but spend most of their time on patrol. They work outdoors in all weathers. They also visit homes and workplaces on their patch.
Their work is often focused on areas that are experiencing low-level crime or antisocial behaviour. PCSO's are likely to face challenging situations, such as people who are drunk or hostile.
A high-visibility uniform is worn, including a hat. PCSO's may also wear a protective vest.
Salaries for new entrants start from around £17,000. British Transport Police PCSO's earn £18,911 on starting service.
With experience, earnings may rise to around £22,000. PCSO's reaching the top end of the scale, or working in supervisory roles, may earn around £25,000.
Each police force sets its own pay rates for PCSO's Allowances and overtime payments can boost basic salaries.
There are around 16,000 PCSO's, working in all areas of the country.
Each of the 43 police forces in England and Wales employ PCSO's, as does the British Transport Police.
Police forces recruit PCSO's at different times. Vacancies and recruitment drives are generally advertised in local press and on the forces' individual websites.
PCSO's must be at least 17½ and a British, EU or Commonwealth citizen, or a foreign national with indefinite leave to remain in the UK. No specific qualifications are required, and people with a range of backgrounds and experiences are encouraged to apply.
Employers may prefer people with an experience of community service, which may be paid or voluntary.
Qualifications in public services or similar subjects may be useful such as:
As a guide, minimum requirements for entry on to a foundation degree or HND course are normally one A level and three or four GCSE's (A*-C), or equivalent.
Applicants first submit an application form. Those who pass this round are invited to an assessment process, which will include written tests.
Successful candidates undergo a medical check. This includes eyesight test and sometimes a fitness test. A background and security check and a financial check are also carried out. Applicants who have committed certain criminal offences will be ruled out, though people with minor offences are not necessarily rejected. There are no height restrictions.
All PCSO's undergo a training period of several weeks. This is arranged by individual forces and usually takes place locally or at a police training centre. It is less intensive than the training for police officers.
The content includes:
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A PCSO must be:
PCSO's with experience can progress into a role supervising or managing other PCSO's
The job of PCSO can provide essential skills and experience for those interested in applying to become police officers.
British Transport Police,
25 Camden Road, London NW1 9LN
Tel: 0800 405040
National Police Recruitment Team
Additional resources for job seekers and those already in a job.