Concern at use of teenage police workers

Sixteen-year-olds could soon help police in their work around Norfolk by becoming police community support officers.Earlier this week it emerged that Thames Valley Police employed two school leavers to carry out foot patrols from Reading police station.

Sixteen-year-olds could soon help police in their work around Norfolk by becoming police community support officers.

Earlier this week it emerged that Thames Valley Police employed two school leavers to carry out foot patrols from Reading police station.

The move prompted controversy amid claims that force chiefs and the government are trying to 'police on the cheap' and yesterday Norfolk Police Federation expressed its concerns over the move.

A Norfolk police spokeswoman said: “Norfolk Constabulary would accept applications from 16-year-olds.

“However, those applicants would then be part of a recruitment process which would assess whether they were capable of carrying out the functions that are asked of them. If successful, they would then be provided with the appropriate training.”

Police Federation officials are convinced PCSOs are being recruited as cheap replacements for mainstream officers, because they cost at least £10,000 a year less to employ than full-time regular officers.

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The number of PCSOs is set to soar over the next year with forces under huge pressure to reach targets on recruiting civilian officers - or risk losing funding.

Eight of the 43 forces in England and Wales expect to be recruiting more PCSOs than mainstream police by 2008.

In Norfolk, 100 PCSOs will be taken on in the next year. The force has 176 PCSOs and 1,570 full time equivalent police officers, but by the end of next March it plans to have 280 PCSOs and 1,570 police officers.

Dave Benfield, general secretary of the Norfolk Police Federation, said while the federation supported the concept of PCSOs he said they should be the eyes and ears of the police force and not replacements for the regular force.

He said: “As far as employing 16-year-olds goes, there are question marks over the legalities of having somebody who is not old enough to buy or sell alcohol being in a position where they might have to confiscate alcohol.

“People do mature at different ages, but it is a concern to allow people so young to patrol the streets and potentially come into conflict with the threat of physical violence. There is a robust selection process for PCSOs and I would not like to think that the force, just because it gets funding to recruit x amount of PCSOs will be under pressure to recruit that amount of PCSOs or risk losing the funding. It should be about quality, not quantity.”

The youngest known PCSO in Norfolk is 20-year-old Katie Barnard who works in Sheringham and was recently put forward for a commendation for bravery after helping to bring two violent criminals to justice.

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