A new police station has opened in Thornton Heath as part of a fresh zero-tolerance regime on crime.
The new base on Parchmore Road houses the Broad Green, Thornton Heath and West Thornton Safer Neighbourhood Teams (SNTs).
The station could be a novel solution to fears that many frontline police services could suffer in the wake of budget cuts of an estimated £90 million in Croydon.
However, the use of Police Community Support Officers in a central role at the new facilities has raised questions among some members of the community, who believe that their deployment is ineffective when it comes to preventing antisocial or criminal behaviour.
Police Community Support Officers (PCSOs)
The PCSOs were first brought into action in 2002 under the Police Reform Act. The act outlined that the officers were to work to compliment and support regular police offers, ‘providing a visible and accessible uniformed presence to improve the quality of life in the community.’
In research conducted for Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary by Ipsos MORI, PCSOs bore the brunt of ‘off-the-top negative thoughts,’ with regards to performance. It was also the case that participants noted a distinct absence of ‘real’ police when situations concerning antisocial behaviour arose.
Figures from the survey indicated that less than 5% of individuals believed that PCSOs, dubbed ‘plastic policemen’ by some Croydon locals, were rightly placed for dealing with criminal behaviour – as opposed to 90% who opted for ‘real’ police.
Michael, 33, a Croydon resident interviewed this week, said: “The plastic officers are pretty much useless. They can’t arrest anyone and the youth in the area have seemed to capitalise on this. Every other week there are stories of PCSOs appearing ineffective in combating even minor disturbances.”
Michael’s comments mirrored the general consensus amongst those in and around the area. However, a new initiative has been conceived in order to deal with rising instances of crime.
More than 30 officers will utilise the building situated on Parchmore Road as a base to launch both uniformed and undercover operations across the SNT locations.
Foremost of these is Operation Refresh, headed up by Inspector Chris Green, with the job of diffusing crime in the north of the borough. Green said that the operation was ‘not a month-long or a six-month long operation.’ “It is here to stay.”
Central to Operation Refresh are the Police Community Support Officers, who have been reassigned to do uniformed night patrols supported by undercover officers.
This reassignment has done little to alleviate fears from the elderly and youth alike. In a BBC London Gun & Knife Crime survey in 2008, statistics portrayed a bleak review of police presence in neighbourhoods.
After talking to several groups of youths in the area, it seemed that those likely to be affected by Operation Refresh were unfazed by the proposed increase in officer patrols.
Joseph, 15, from Thornton Heath, said: “Most of the young people around here aren’t really bothered by the police presence; they seem few and far between. The PCSOs can’t touch us. They don’t have the power of arrest and have to radio for assistance in which case the offender would have long gone.”
Naomi, 18, from Croydon, said: “They are just there for show, they don’t really help anyone. I’ve seen situations where there will be criminal behaviour taking place and two officers will walk past chatting to each other, ignoring everything. Young people are wise to them now. They don’t stand any chance against gangs.”
According to Parm Sandhu, Safer Neighbourhoods Chief Inspector: “PCSOs provide an enhanced uniformed presence in Croydon and are dedicated to public reassurance and reducing crime.”
With the new facility opening in Thornton Heath, elderly residents found it strange that the PCSOs were simply being reassigned and not retrained to take on the added responsibilities.
Inspector Green released a statement revealing that the officers would in fact merely act as ‘our eyes and ears on the ground,’ and would ‘let the rest of the team know and we come and support them,’ – a method some argue has long proven ineffective in dealing with instances of crime in and around London.
A PCSO, who wished to remain unnamed when interviewed, said: “I have never been in a situation I felt unable to handle alone or with the aid of my colleague. Our main aim is to reassure the public that they can go about their daily duties with no need to fear.”
“As officers we understand our limited powers and act up to and never beyond these. Since we have been introduced, I’ve had nothing but positive comments from locals when on patrol. I truly believe our presence has made the streets safer for all residents, young and old.”
The base, which does not operate a front counter service, aims to assist victims of crime – but anyone with information relating to criminal activities can still speak to an officer who will help.