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A Police Community Support Officer (PCSO) ( ), or Community Support Officer (CSO) ( ), is a uniformed non-warranted officer employed by a territorial police force or the British Transport Police in England and Wales. Police Community Support Officers were introduced in 2002 by the Police Reform Act 2002. Proposals for PCSOs in Northern Irelandmarker were prevented by a budget shortfall in the Police Service of Northern Ireland.

At the end of April 2007 the Home Office reported there were approximately 16,000 PCSOs in England and Wales.. A more detailed breakdown of PCSOs employed by each Basic Command Unit published in October 2007 revealed that there were actually approximately 13,500 PCSOs including 3,700 employed by the Metropolitan Police.

In Scotland, PCSO stands for Police Custody and Security Officer.


The role of a PCSO is to support the constables within a Neighbourhood Policing team. This generally involves duties such as high visibility patrolling, tackling anti-social behaviour, dealing with minor offences, gathering intelligence and supporting front-line policing.

The Home Office have specifically limited the powers designated to PCSOs to maintain the distinction between them and police officers.


A PCSO on duty with two police constables.
Note the blue epaulettes and cap badge

The PCSO uniform is similar to that of a police officer, but has a variety of uniquely distinguishing features depending on the area.

A PCSO's headgear is normally a flat cap for men and a bowler for women, like constables. Headgear may or may not display the force crest, some have a shield, usually blue, stating "Police Community Support Officer". The band on the hat may also be different with some sporting a reflective band on top or under a thicker or thinner blue or red band (as in the City of London Police PCSOs); most commonly they sport the plain blue band and some having a blue/black and white chequered band.

Like their male police constable counterparts male PCSOs wear a flat cap (with a different band and sometimes a different badge) but do not wear the traditional custodian helmet even when on foot patrol. This has become an issue as it has potentially left male PCSOs with no head protection.

A stab vest is usually issued to police officers. Wearing one is often left to the discretion of the individual, although in some forces the practice is compulsory. Vests are also usually near on identical to UK police constables, but often with different labelling and colouring. Two forces in the UK currently do not issue stab vests to their PCSOs, namely the West Midlands Police and Staffordshire Police.

Shirts for the PCSOs are most commonly white, although some variations in colour such as grey and blue exist in some forces. Most PCSOs tend to have the blue epaulettes, with the words "Police Community Support Officer" followed by their identification/area number. Some forces use black epaulettes, like those of a constable. Neckwear if worn is a tie for men or a cravat for women, like their constable counterparts. Neckwear is normally light blue, but is sometimes black like a constable's.

Hi-visibility clothing is provided and recommended for traffic direction, but not mandatory for patrol. This tends to either be a jacket or a cover for body armour. This normally has special badging identifying the wearer as a PCSO.

Special uniforms exist in most forces for cycling for both PCSOs and constables. This typically consists of a cycling helmet, breathable cycling shirt, cargo cycling trousers and sometimes cycling shoes. Hi-visibility jackets or vests are normally compulsory for cycling. All items tend to be specially marked to identify the wearer.

In 2007, UNISON, the union that represents most PCSOs in Britain, called for a standard uniform for PCSOs that would be similar to a constable with the exception of blue and white chequered hat band, blue tie and epaulettes but all other uniform and stab vest police constable standard issue. Unison claimed this would be to give PCSOs the authority they needed, and to stop them being confused with traffic wardens, parking attendants and other non-police uniformed workers. The Home Office reacted by saying that PCSO uniforms were an issue for individual police forces. Jan Berry, chairman of the Police Federation of England and Wales, opposed the idea, stating that it would make PCSOs look too much like constables and put them in situations they could not deal with.


PCSOs are not attested constables, and therefore do not have the same powers of arrest under section 24 of thePolice and Criminal Evidence Act 1984. They can, however, utilise the "any person" powers of arrest under section 24A of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (commonly known as a citizens arrest). This means they are able to arrest anyone without warrant providing there is reasonable belief they are committing, or have committed an indictable or 'either-way' offence. This covers offences such as arson, criminal damage, theft, assault, possession of a controlled drug and burglary. All PCSOs can also make a common law arrests such as to prevent a breach of the peace.

PCSOs are entitled to use reasonable force in order to effect an arrest as described above (under section 3 of the Criminal Law Act 1967), or to forcibly detain (using their powers from the Police Reform Act 2002). There is also a 'reasonable code of conduct' which is a legitimate & tested defence to a (technical) common assault of which the courts have accepted and has now been written into case law (e.g. leading two disputing parties away from each other to prevent a fight - technically an assault as neither party has been arrested/detained at this point, but still considered otherwise lawful). PCSOs may carry handcuffs, which are not controlled by law, and may use them for detaining or arresting a person using standard reasonable force under the powers listed above.

The majority of PCSOs' powers stem from the Police Reform Act 2002, as amended. PCSOs do not have a duty to act, unlike police constables; it is up to their discretion whether they should exercise a power in each situation. Each PCSO is assigned their powers by the Chief Constable of each respective force. Unlike a police constable, a PCSO only has powers when on duty and in uniform, and within the area policed by their respective force.

The powers that all PCSOs have at present are:

  • Issue fixed penalty notices for traffic offences, littering, breach of dog control orders and cycling on a footpath
  • Require name and address where they have reason to believe a person has committed a road traffic offence, a 'relevant offence', a licencing offence, an act of anti-social behaviour or is in possession of a controlled drug
  • Confiscate alcohol from persons in designated places and from under 18s, or anyone considered involved in supplying under 18s with alcohol
  • Seize and dispose of tobacco from under 16s
  • Seize (controlled) drugs under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971
  • Enter and search premises to save life or prevent serious damage to property
  • Seize vehicles used to cause alarm, distress or annoyance (s.59 Police Reform Act 2002)
  • Remove abandoned vehicles
  • Stop bicycles
  • Control traffic
  • Carry out road checks
  • Place traffic signs
  • Enforce cordoned areas under the Terrorism Act 2000
  • Photograph people away from a police station
  • Stop and search in an authorised area under the Terrorism Act 2000 if authorised and supervised by a police officer

A PCSO on duty at Newport railway station
Additional powers which may be assigned to PCSOs by the Chief Constable (or Commissioner in Londonmarker), but which vary from force to force, are:

  • Detain a person suspected to have committed an offence or an act of anti-social behaviour.
  • Detain a person who does not provide their name and address when required
  • Detain a person who fails to provide details or complies with orders of a PCSO.
  • Use reasonable force in relation to a detained person or to prevent a detained person making off. This may involve the use of handcuffs if the PCSO has been issued with and authorised to use them.
  • Issue fixed penalty notices for disorder, truancy, excluded pupils found in public places, dog fouling, graffiti and flyposting
  • Enforce bylaws
  • Deal with begging
  • Enforce certain licensing offences
  • Search detained people for dangerous items
  • Disperse groups and remove under 16s to their place of residence
  • Remove children contravening bans imposed by a curfew notice to their place of residence.
  • Remove truants to designated premises
  • Search for alcohol and tobacco
  • Enforce park trading offences
  • Enter licensed premises (limited)
  • Stop vehicles for testing
  • Direct traffic for the purposes of escorting abnormal loads

Traffic PCSOs (TPCSOs) also have the powers of Police Traffic Wardens.

Relevant offences

The following are criminal offences in relation to PCSOs under the Police Reform Act 2002 for which a PCSO can detain, or a Police Constable can arrest for:

  • assaulting a PCSO during the course of his/her duty
  • assaulting an individual assisting a PCSO during the course of his/her duty
  • wilful obstruction or resist a PCSO during the course of his/her duty
  • failing to provide personal details upon request to a PCSO
  • 'makes off' failing to provide correct personal details upon request to a PCSO
  • 'makes off' having provided false personal details upon request to a PCSO
  • acting in an anti-social manner - failure to give name/address to PCSO
  • acting in an anti-social manner - 'makes off' whilst detained
  • acting in an anti-social manner - 'makes off' whilst detained & fails to provide name/address to a PCSO
  • acting in an anti-social manner - 'makes off' whilst accompying PCSO to a police station
  • contravening a PCSOs requirement to hand over alcohol
  • contravening a PCSOs requirement to surrender tobacco
  • fail to stop vehicle as directed by a PCSO

This list is not exhaustive.[77311]


PCSO Rank Structure

PCSOs in general do not have a rank system: their epaulettes normally simply bear the words POLICE COMMUNITY SUPPORT OFFICER or "PCSO" and their shoulder number, or in the Metropolitan Police, a borough identification code and shoulder number.

Exceptions to this are found in South Yorkshire and Kent Police who also have PCSO Supervisors.[77312]

The South Yorkshire epaulettes have a 'Bar' above the wording Police Community Support Officer Supervisor - Traffic with the shoulder number beneath.

PCSO Supervisors only supervise PCSOs and normally work under a Police Sergeant

PCSO roles in the Metropolitan Police Service

Within the Metropolitan Police, which is responsible for law enforcement in Greater Londonmarker, several different types of PCSO exist

  • Safer Neighbourhoods PCSO - Provides a uniformed presence in Safer Neighbourhood Teams, which police London's boroughs and other areas within the MPS district.
  • Safer Transport PCSO - Provides a uniformed presence on buses (policing on the railways and London Underground being provided by the British Transport Police.)
  • Traffic PCSO - Provides a uniformed presence by assisting the Traffic OCU in roads policing, along with issuing penalty notices.
  • Security PCSO - Provides a uniformed presence in well known areas in London, safeguarding against terrorism.
  • Royal Parks PCSO - Provides a uniformed presence within the Royal Parks in the MPS District.
  • Aviation Security PCSO - Provides a uniformed presence, assisting the Aviation Security OCU in policing of London airports.
  • Station PCSO - Acts as front counter liaison with members of the public.
  • Victim PCSO - Responsible for updating victims of crime about police investigations.


PCSOs are not normally issued with any Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) in the sense that they are not authorised to carry; extendable or fixed batons or CS incapacitant spray. Stab resistant vests are issued, however, the compulsory nature of wearing on duty is left to each respective force. The British Transport Police PCSOs as well as those in North Walesmarker (and others) are given handcuffs. PCSOs carry a torch and a limited first aid kit containing rubber gloves, a bag to put bloodied clothing in, a resuscitation mask to allow them to give mouth to mouth CPR without contact with actual lips, and alcohol wipes. PCSOs also carry a radio identical to the police, which they use to communicate with other PCSOs, police officers and the control room on the same channel. Some neighbourhood police teams also monitor local shop/pub watch radios. Some PCSOs have been known to use head cameras and hand held digital cameras to film or take pictures. PCSOs who do this normally receive special training.


Some forces allow their PCSOs, commonly those assigned to duties managing traffic, to drive marked police vehicles but most do not. Some forces have issued PCSO vehicles of their own, including mopeds. Some forces maintain a small fleet of special PCSO vehicles for purely transportation of the personnel. PCSOs may only use blue lights when stationary to indicate a hazard or an Incident Rendezvous Point.

PCSOs also regularly use mountain bikes, or other bicycles. Since 2007, PCSOs and Police Constables have had to take a training course before being allowed to use bicycles whilst on duty, after a trainee PCSO died after being hit by a truck in Wigan. In 2007, Segways were reported to be used by Metropolitan Police Safer Neighbourhood Teams (SNT) in Suttonmarker. These teams consist mostly of PCSOs. There was concern that their use may be dangerous, and may possibly contravene the 1974 Road Traffic Act.

Young PCSOs

It has recently been revealed that several forces have recruited PCSOs under the usual recruitment age for police constables, which is 18 years and 6 months. The criterion seems to be that such recruits must be at least 16 and their appointment must be authorised by the Chief Constable of the force being applied to. One such officer of the Thames Valley Police Force, 17 year-old PCSO Nadia Naeem made news. The decision to appoint her and other 16 and 17 year-olds has been the subject of much debate. On 26 November 2007 Home Secretary Jacqui Smith made the decision that from December 2007, all PCSOs must be 18 before they can be appointed. PCSOs under 18 years who were already appointed, or had applied prior to this ruling are to be allowed to hold their positions. A few police forces are accepting applications from candidates below 18 years due to the lengthy recruitment process. Candidates will therefore be able to begin training upon reaching the required age.

Other differences from police officers

PCSO's are not members of the Police Federation, the staff association to which, by statute, all regular police officers from the rank of Constable to that of Chief Inspector belong. Police officers cannot, by law, join any trade union, but as unsworn non-police officers, PCSOs can - usually, this is UNISON. Unlike other civilians employed by the police, PCSOs cannot be special constables, as this may conflict with their role as community officers, since specials have the same powers as regular constables.

Police Federation stance

The Police Federation of England and Wales, the representative body of all UK police officers, has a mixed stance on PCSOs, recognising the useful support they give the regular police but concerned about the exact role they play in policing.

Similar programmes


The Royal Canadian Mounted Policemarker has launched a Community Safety Officer (CSO) ( ) Program based on the British model. The first seventeen special constable CSOs were sworn in on 16 June 2008. This is a pilot programme, with each CSO giving an 18 month commitment. After the 18 months, the pilot will be evaluated and a decision will be made as to whether it will continue.

Although they do not carry pistols like fully powered officers in the RCMP, they do carry pepper sprays and batons to protect themselves. CSOs are given the title "Special Constable".


In the USA since the 1970s several Police departments have Community Service Officers (CSO) who are unsworn uniformed civilians who provide support in crime prevention, investigation, and response where full police powers are unnecessary and assists sworn police officers in upholding law and order. Like British PCSO’s their powers are limited.

See also


  1. Police Community Support Officers | Home Office
  2. Police community support officer strength by Basic Command Unit, 31 March 2007
  5. http://www.national-]
  7. Where we stand on PCSOs
  8. Enhanced Policing Options - Community Safety Officers

External links

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