LIKE MOST people, I suspect, I had some concerns about the introduction of Police Community Support Officers – dubbed “plastic police” by some – in 2002.

On the face of it, it looked like a cheap way to make it appear that we had more police officers on our streets than we actually did because, as a nation, we couldn’t afford enough of the real thing.

It looked like it because that’s exactly what it was: a low-cost way to boost public confidence by increasing the presence on our streets of people in uniform wearing hi-vis jackets and badged caps.

Professional police officers themselves, of course, were sceptical, fearing that their jobs would be reduced and the PCSOs, with limited powers and far less training, would be unable to cope.

The Police Federation, to this day, remains ambivalent. So, it was interesting to read their reaction to the consultation launched by the Norfolk Constabulary into a proposal to scrap its 150 PCSOs in favour of recruiting more regular officers.

Norfolk Police said the move could save £1.6 million a year, enough to pay for 81 extra regular officers and 16 support staff.

Rather than jump for joy, however, the Police Federation’s immediate reaction was to raise concerns that the PCSOs’ former workload would simply be dumped back onto regular officers.

And they’re right: of course it would. Someone has to do it.

That, in a nutshell, explains why getting shot of PCSOs is a bad idea and why it was encouraging to hear West Yorkshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner, Mark Burns-Williamson, re-affirming his commitment to keeping them, in reaction to the Norfolk force’s move.

Most PCSOs work within Safer Neighbourhood or Neighbourhood Policing Teams and report to regular officers under a sergeant or inspector.

They mainly deal with minor offences, tackle anti-social behaviour, help with traffic problems and crowd control, gather criminal intelligence and carry out patrols to help boost community confidence.

Given the huge financial pressures on all public services that prevent us from recruiting thousands of extra officers, are those really the sorts of jobs we want our highly-trained regular policemen and women to spend their time on?

Yes, of course it would be nice to have a fully-trained professional knocking on the door and hunting down the yobs who stole a bicycle from our garden shed but would that really be the best use of their time?

There are, of course, obvious differences between the West Yorkshire and Norfolk areas their forces which help to illustrate why what’s sauce for the goose isn’t necessarily sauce for the gander.

According to the official recorded crime data, in the 12 months to June this year, there were 33 homicides in West Yorkshire, compared to 11 in Norfolk; 6,563 sex offences compared to 2,039; and 2,584 robberies compared to just 406.

Perhaps the most striking figure is the statistic for violence with injury offences: West Yorkshire dealt with 23,206 incidents compared to 5,994 in Norfolk, nearly four times as many.

Set that against the fact that our county has just over three times as many regular officers (4,720) as Norfolk (1,515) and you realise that, comparatively, we already have fewer officers dealing with more serious crimes.

As I’ve mentioned in this column several times previously, I would be one of the first to agree to pay more in tax to fund more police officers to help keep us safe in these increasingly lawless times, where respect for our neighbours and fellow citizens seems to be in failing supply in many places.

To be fair, West Yorkshire did launch a drive to recruit 300 new regular officers last year funded by a 3.6 per cent increase in the council tax police precept.

But, against a backdrop of a 17 per cent rise in crime across the county and given that politicians generally seem to fight shy of such common-sense tactics, we surely have to make the best of what we’ve got - and that has to mean employing our top resources to tackle the most serious threats to society.

In that respect alone, PCSOs have become a vital component in the fight against crime.

Giving children the right start is good for us all

“CATCH them young and watch them grow” the saying goes and nowhere is that more important than in an educational environment.

It certainly seems to be the philosophy guiding the Abbey Green Nursery and Children’s Centre, in Manningham, where many of the children start without English as their first language but leave with a great preparation for life in modern Britain thanks to what Ofsted has described as a “caring and inclusive” culture.

It’s their fifth consecutive “good rating” and, surely, an example for all such facilities to aspire to.

Positive engagement puts rail users on an improving track

IT’S AMAZING what can be achieved by people working together.

It’s become almost a tradition to knock and moan about railway companies for their poor service but the Friends of Baildon Station have found that enthusiastic engagement can yield more positive results.

Their efforts have not only led to the improvements identified in their own survey of passengers but have, according to Arriva Northern, “forged a great partnership” which has created a real “buzz” about the station, making it a “gateway to the village to be proud of.”

Volunteers have also carried out planting and tidied up the site.

The company rightly says they have “made a massive difference and should be proud of their achievements.”

It’s good to see such a positive outcome and Arriva Northern acknowledging their efforts.

Now, about those over-crowded trains and dated rolling stock…