They currently undertake some of their tasks, freeing the officers up to concentrate on more serious crimes and investigations.
Often a part of Safer Neighbourhood Teams, they do not have the same powers as officers and cannot arrest criminals.
Technically they have fewer powers than special constables, who have the same authority as officers, but more than neighbourhood wardens and are employed by the police.
They have some powers provided by an Act of Parliament, which allow them to tackle anti-social behaviour issues, and are able to call on PC colleagues to arrest offenders.
They can issue fixed penalty notices for offences such as littering and cycling on the footpath, and can confiscate alcohol, drugs or tobacco.
PCSO: record of controversy
13 Apr 2012
They are able to demand the name and address of anyone acting in an anti-social manner and have power of entry to save life or prevent damage.
They can also remove abandoned vehicles, help with missing person enquiries and are used for crowd and traffic control at public events and at the scene of accidents.
They are also subject to a range of "discretionary powers", determined by chief officers, including the right to issue penalty notices for vandalism, truancy and to deal with begging.
Their primary role is to be seen patrolling the community on foot or bicycle, particularly in areas of high crime, vandalism and gangs.
Sometimes known as "Blunkett's Bobbies", hey are often tasked with maintaining links with the local community and will visit victims of crime to provide reassurance.
PCSOs are managed by a sergeant and are accountable to the force in the same way as officers.