Police Community Support Officers and The Homeless
We know that the Community Support Police Officers are poorly paid support for the police recruited from the local community to aid safeguarding the streets and to protect and serve the community.
You could be mistaken for thinking they are police but for the luminous vests. You could also be mistaken for thinking they are uniformed bureaucrats who wander around the streets looking for something to do. They lack police powers and if they want to arrest someone have to actually call the police and ask them to arrest. However, my main gripe with them isn't whether they are effective or a waste of public money, or even the fact that they are not really police even though they look like they are (apparently the real police think they are a bit useless).
My main gripe about them is that, in this town at least, a lot of their work seems to be focused on the homeless. Yet, not in a "supportive" way. A man who I know as Gary but the authorities seem to know as someone else is often huddled outside the benefits office. I was there today because I came out on fag breaks from the local Pitman training centre and he basically stayed there all day. I know that after my latest rant that makes me a hypocrite because I am studying book-keeping in the pursuit of a permanent job, instead of busking for a living on the streets of Brighton, but I am ready to give up my rock and roll dreams now that I hit 31 tomorrow. I figure, why fight it, just admit your talentless and let it go.
Gary (he prefers Gary) is alcoholic. Okay, no surprises there, but he has hostel accommodation for the first time this year in years. His keyworker helped him out, thank God. Yet after such a long time on the streets he continues to sleep rough regularly and spends most of the day outside the benefits office. He's a vulnerable, but very lovely individual. So today, he and I are talking and he's just eaten his sandwich and then a few minutes later I find him crawling near the hotel in agony because he's twisted his ankle. I try to help him to his feet, but he's in such pain he has to sit down again, near the porch of the hotel. Cue the benevolent entrance of the Community Support Police Officers who upon discovering Gary sitting down in pain outside the hotel ask him how he is and whether he is okay. Gary explains he has twisted his ankle and is in pain and if they give him 5 minutes he will move on.
What is the next question from the CSPO?
CSPO: "Do you have any alcohol on you?"
At this point I am thinking, "Err...you've just found a homeless guy in pain sitting down by a hotel because he's twisted his ankle and the most important thing you feel you can do in this situation is to find out whether he has any booze on him so you can take it away, or pour it away in front of him because he would be offending the Council's ludicrous street drinking by-laws, which are in operation all year aside from Gay Pride day when everyone gets smashed at any time in any place in Brighton. You can't touch the gays but you can take a swipe at the homeless I guess."
They are keen to move him on because of course a hotel has a reputation to uphold and even though noone's staying there because everyone is flat broke because of the credit crunch, they want to see him moved to a bench.
Gary says, "Okay just give me a minute it will be okay and I will move onto a bench."
The CSPOs ask if he needs an ambulance or to go to hospital or to be taken home to the hostel but Gary just wants to be left in peace for 5 minutes before trying to walk again. They say they'll be back in 15 mins to check up on him.
What concerns me is that if these CSPOs want the title "community support" in their job description why don't they genuinely try supporting members of the community of whom Gary is one. He may not be a benefits assessor, he may be very troubled and he may not even appear so clean cut as the CSPOs but a valuable member of society he still is. One gets the distinct feeling that the CSPOs helpful as they can sometimes be are a branch of the state designed to "clean up" towns and cities rather than "support" the "community".
Gary has been caught street-drinking quite a bit. Not surprising given he has an addiction to alcohol. He is always very respectful to the police and tells me it is a fair cop when he gets caught. However, the CSPOs are taking this side of their job very seriously indeed because he has told me that now on two occasions the CSPOs have removed drink from him on the "suspicion" that he was going to drink it in a public space, when in fact he was on his way home to the hostel where he was legally entitled to drink a can. So in actual fact, these upholders of the street drinking laws of Brighton and Hove have in fact broken their own laws in the case of Gary because I believe if you take something from someone when they are not breaking the by-law, CSPO or no CSPO that is called theft. You cannot remove drink from someone, good though you may think you are doing, if the can is not open and they are not drinking it publicly. If you do that then you are abusing your power and your position.
Don't get me wrong, I'm sure they are very good at giving tourists directions and helping old grannies across the road. However, the homeless who, yes, often have alcohol dependence, seem to be on the end of the CSPOs attention perhaps a little too much. I'd like to see a little more compassion from them, and a bit more justice, because as far as I can see, Gary may be doing himself some harm, but he isn't doing any harm to anyone else.