The controversy over Police Community Support Officers deepened last night with the emergence of a leaked memo that "makes a mockery" of their ability to fight crime.
The memo states that PCSOs - dubbed Blunkett's Bobbies after the home secretary who created them - are not allowed to tackle violent yobs.
They are also barred from responding to any serious incident where there is not a fully-trained police officer already present.
The risk assessment compiled by Lancashire Police even forbids the PCSOs to issue fines, detain people or confiscate alcohol if any violence is threatened.
Instead, they are instructed to call for back-up or withdraw if they face confrontation by a member of the public.
I would have thought that situations where violence appears possible or likely are precisely the ones which most require the presence of qualified police officers. If PCSOs are going to be unable to deal with such situations, then there really is very little purpose behind their continued employment. As the Police Federation's Steve Edwards told the Daily Mail, it is surely going to be a more efficient use of resources to hire 60 fully-trained officers, who actually can take action in such circumstances, than to hire 100 PCSOs, who can't.
Police community support officers are to have more powers to investigate crime in an attempt to relieve work pressures on front-line officers.Now, to me, this sounds rather like telling nurses that they are no longer allowed to take patients' temperatures, and then letting them carry out open heart surgery. How, precisely, are PCSOs going to be able to investigate crime, when they have absolutely no powers with which to back up their investigations? What will they do if the person they are investigating starts getting angry? Run away crying, presumably.