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What has changed since Norfolk Police scrapped PCSOs?

Norfolk Police is the only force in the country to scrap the role of PCSO. Picture: Ian Burt

Norfolk Police is the only force in the country to scrap the role of PCSO. Picture: Ian Burt

It is more than a year since Norfolk Police announced radical plans to redesign its policing model, including scrapping PCSOs.

Officers from Operation Moonshot. Picture: Neil DidsburyOfficers from Operation Moonshot. Picture: Neil Didsbury

Five neighbourhood policing teams are now up to full strength in Norfolk as 100 new police officers have been recruited.

After the loss of 150 PCSOs, Norfolk Police has funnelled its resources into proactive and neighbourhood policing, with three responsive Moonshot teams trawling the roads.

The changes have come after an overhaul of the policing model in Norfolk, with PCSOs scrapped, front counters closed, and investment in new police constables.

But mass recruitment into the force has come with its own problems.

Response officers are still "fire fighting", and a backlog in driver training has prompted delays in emergency responses.

And the Police Federation has concerns over the new influx of student officers because they are "not being prepared psychologically" for the demands of policing.

Chief Constable Simon Bailey said Norfolk 2020 took more than a year of planning to ensure the force was "fit enough" to deal with modern policing.

"The exploitation of the vulnerable, the threat, harm and risk within communities is now so significant that we needed to fundamentally review the way that we dealt with those challenges," he said.

Chief Constable Simon Bailey. Picture : ANTONY KELLYChief Constable Simon Bailey. Picture : ANTONY KELLY

"What I have done with those additional officers is invested them in those areas we believe they will have the greatest effect."

Mr Bailey said we are "now seeing the impact of that investment", as officers are able to surge into areas like Chapelfield Gardens last week, and uncover large-scale operations such as the Lenwade cannabis factory.

He said the force has "the most robust response to county lines" anywhere in the country.

"It is the boldest policing move as the only one that has had the confidence and courage to make that change around PCSOs," he said. "We are focusing on the areas that matter and doing our level best keep our communities safe."

In eight months the Moonshot City team in Norwich has surpassed 300 arrests.

And Andy Symonds, chairman of the Norfolk Police Federation, said they had reclaimed proactive policing.

"They are not a slave to the radio," he said. "

But the loss of PCSOs to make way for new officers has had a knock-on effect.

Officers in Great Yarmoth for Operation Moonshot. Picture: Norfolk PoliceOfficers in Great Yarmoth for Operation Moonshot. Picture: Norfolk Police

Historically they have guarded scenes of crime, but that role fell on officers after their departure.

To free up constables, Mr Bailey has recruited eight 'scene guards' - civilians on zero-hours contracts to guard crime seals. More will be hired.

New officers have been used to shore up neighbourhood policing teams.

And Andy Symonds, chairman of the Norfolk Police Federation, said they should be "ring fenced" so they can maintain a presence in communities.

"Some of those neighbourhood teams have been able to deal with stuff at source," he said.

"We need investment in those teams because that is where we stop the workflow to 999."

But while PCSOs could dedicate 80pc of their time patrolling their communities, Mr Symonds said neighbourhood teams are "beholden to the radio".

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"When the wheels come off and it is really busy they get dragged into responding to calls," he said.

Dozens of student officers have been put on the streets in the past year, bolstering the front line of the force.

But Mr Symonds fears burn out unless they are better cared for.

"We are dragging those guys and girls off the street, putting them in a uniform with 10 weeks of training and 10 week with a tutor, then they are out on their own," he said.

"We need to be looking after the youngsters coming through because they are the next generation."

To be able to respond to emergencies on blue lights, officers must take an additional three week training course. But backlogs in the training centre have meant there are fewer officers who can respond on blue lights, losing crucial seconds.

The force has responded by sending alternative units such as roads police, or seeking support from neighbouring forces.

"We do not have as many response drivers as we would like because we have a plethora of people waiting for three week driver training," said Mr Symonds.

Andy Symonds, chairman of Norfolk Police Federation. Picture Andy SymondsAndy Symonds, chairman of Norfolk Police Federation. Picture Andy Symonds

"The boss is trying all he can, even looking to go out to other forces' driver training schools to send students to, but they are in the same position - with a backlog.

"That should be concerning for the public because they won't get as fast a response. We are a rural area and support will take that little bit longer to get there.

"Those seconds really count if you are under attack."

Police have been 'cut too far'

Changes announced in Norfolk 2020 have not yet all come to fruition.

The first "spade in the ground" at a new Western investigation hub in Swaffham is planned for next month, and it will be operational in a year.

More officers have been recruited to neighbourhood policing teams in Norwich.  Picture: Nick ButcherMore officers have been recruited to neighbourhood policing teams in Norwich. Picture: Nick Butcher

The Eastern hub at Broadland is expected to be completed by 2021.

And within 18 months, Mr Bailey hopes to have all his detectives supported by digital investigators, trained in extraction and analysis of digital evidence.

Mr Symonds said the force could "cut its cloth" with the budget as best it could, but more investment from central government is crucial.

"It has taken 10 years of austerity to realise they have cut too far," he said. "It is going to take a number of years to reverse that.

"When the tap is turned back on how are you going to cope. We have reduced all the back office staff and the guys and girls out there fire fighting are suffering.

"Officers are now a bit brow-beaten about all the changes. They feel down-trodden because it is such a state of flux.

"I hope we have seen a change in tone from government and we get some sensible decisions from them."

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