The proposal by South Yorkshire Police Authority to replace police on the beat with PCSOs as the first point of contact with the public is interesting for a variety of reasons. It was of course suggested that this would happen when PCSOs were introduced some 10 years ago. It is surprising perhaps it has taken this long. However the very idea of a separate 'public' cuts against the traditional philosophy of policing in the UK as set out in Peel's Principles of Policing, #7 of which says:
Police, at all times, should maintain a relationship with the public that gives reality to the historic tradition that the police are the public and the public are the police; the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent upon every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence.
A Police Federation spokesman, interviewed on BBC R4 'Today' programme this morning described PCSOs as 'civilians', thus creating a definite sense of us and them. It seems that the modern pattern of policing, supported by police and politicians alike, has abandoned Peel in favour of the idea of an occupying force, keeping down a hostile populace.
That shift of perspective is dangerous. See for example Principles 2, 3 and 4:
Principle #2: The ability of the police to perform their duties is dependent upon the public approval of police actions.
Principle #3: Police must secure the willing co-operation of the public in voluntary observation of the law to be able to secure and maintain the respect of the public.
Principle #4: The degree of co-operation of the public that can be secured diminishes proportionately to the necessity of the use of physical force.
The more the Police consider themselves outside and above the general public, the worse it will get.