Avon and Somerset Constabulary’s commitment to neighbourhood policing has once again been thrown into question with the news that 2019 has started without a single Police Community Support Officer (PCSO) on active duty in the Stokes.
The diminishing number of PCSOs first came to light back in March 2018 when a meeting of the Stoke Gifford Community Engagement Forum was informed that beat manager PC Julie Rudyard was currently the sole officer covering Stoke Gifford because one of the two PCSOs assigned to the beat was on maternity leave and the other was unavailable.
The matter surfaced again at a Stoke Gifford Parish Council meeting in April 2018, when Cllr Keith Cranney raised concerns about “the lack of police resources in the Stoke Gifford police beat team”. The parish clerk was requested to write to the Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) for Avon and Somerset, Sue Mountstevens, “about the force’s future commitment to neighbourhood policing in the local area”.
At around the same time, the Bradley Stoke beat team lost one of its (then) three PCSOs through the transfer of one team member to Patchway.
Later in the year, after the town had seen its highest crime figures for many years recorded in June, a second PCSO was lost after successfully applying to join the regulars, leaving just one PCSO. Christopher Baker, on the team.
PCSO Baker was well known for running a popular Facebook profile offering advice and responding to queries from members of the local community in Bradley Stoke and beyond. On days when he was on duty, he would often make several posts on his own Facebook profile and respond to issues raised in posts on local Facebook groups.
However, the last update was made to his profile page on 28th November 2018 and nothing has been heard from him on any online channels since then, leading to speculation about whether his is still around.
More recently, at the Bradley Stoke Community Engagement Forum on Thursday 17th January, a member of the public asked Sgt Adrian Fallows what had happened to PCSO Baker. Sgt Fallows replied “He’s not working with us at the moment”. In response to puzzled looks from some of the audience, he then added: “That’s all I can say.”
Above: Screen shot of a message placed on the Facebook profile of PCSO Christopher Baker on 25th January 2019, following two months of inactivity.
Collectively, over the so-called Five Stokes area (Bradley Stoke, Stoke Lodge, Little Stoke, Stoke Gifford and Harry Stoke), this means that ALL of the five PCSO positions are currently unfilled or inactive due to absence.
Speaking at a meeting of Stoke Gifford Parish Council on 8th January, where the matter was once again brought up, chair Ernie Brown was insistent that “the parish must have its own PCSO”.
In Bradley Stoke, town mayor Ben Randles seemed rather less concerned when asked for his views on the matter at the January meeting of Full Council, replying that it was “not an issue for the town council as we don’t fund PCSOs”.
Last year, PCC Mountstevens took advantage of new rules which allowed her to increase the policing component of council tax by £1 a month for the average Band D household. She recently reported that this had enabled the force to commence an ambitious programme of police officer recruitment, adding that it would “protect neighbourhood policing, the police officers and PCSOs in your local area”.
Statement from Avon and Somerset Constabulary
We are committed to maintaining our neighbourhood teams who are at the very heart of their communities but there will always be periods when we have vacancies.
This will be for a variety of reasons. PCSOs can transfer between beats or take up other roles within policing, such as becoming police officers. As with any other role, there can also be occasions when we have long-term absences for personal reasons such as maternity leave or illness.
When roles are vacant, PCSOs from neighbouring beats provide support as necessary as part of a wider area team.
We currently have two vacancies in Bradley Stoke. PCSO Alicia Harvey transferred to Patchway. A PCSO currently in training has been allocated to the post. The second vacancy has come after PCSO Tom Allen was successful in his application to become a police officer. We are aiming to recruit to that post as soon as possible and are currently recruiting PCSOs.
PCSO Baker is currently absent from duty for reasons we are unable to discuss at present.
Unfortunately in the Stoke Lodge /Stoke Gifford / Little Stoke beat, we have two current vacancies. One will be filled by a PCSO currently in training and we’re committed to recruiting for the other post.
This article originally appeared in the February 2019 issue of the Bradley Stoke Journal magazine (on pages 2 & 3). The magazine is delivered FREE, EVERY MONTH (except August), to ALL 8,700 homes in Bradley Stoke. Phone 01454 300 400 to enquire about advertising or leaflet insertion.
Postscipt (12th February 2019)
In a tweet published on 6th February, it was announced that a new PCSO (Archie Flook) will be joining the Stoke Gifford beat team. The Journal understands that the new PCSO is currently completing his training and will be ‘solo’ in about five weeks time.
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