POLICE ‘CRISIS‘ AS REST DAYS RACKED UP
POLICING in Wales has been labelled “in crisis” after tens of thousands of rest days for officers were cancelled due to staffing shortages.
Officers at South Wales Police currently have 16,613 outstanding rest days with a further 19,244 already cancelled. In total 35,857 rest days have not been taken.
Split among the 2,962 officers in the force, it adds up to 12.5 missed days per officer. And figures do not include public holidays or occasions when officers were on call.
The situation is not much better in north Wales. North Wales Police owed 65,436 hours or the equivalent of 6,543.5 rest days based on an average of a 10-hour day. Split across the force’s 979 officers, it works out at over 6.5 days per officer.
The figures come from a Freedom of Information request from the Press Association.
Gwent and Dyfed Powys Police refused to give the figures.
Calum MacLeod, chairman of the Police Federation in England and Wales, said cancelling rest days – the equivalent of a weekend off during a working week – was having a worrying impact on morale, mental and physical health, and efficiency.
Across England and Wales, almost a quarter of a million rest days are owed to 70,000 police officers.
A typical full-time officer would expect to have around nine rest days in a standard month, although some forces said officers could be paid instead of receiving the time back.
Mr MacLeod said: “I think this paints a picture of what policing is like in England and Wales at this time – policing is in crisis.
“We do not have the resources at the moment to meet the demands of the public – whether that be in an event, a terrorist incident, or whether that be from a police officer’s perspective of actually achieving their rest days.
“It’s really important that anybody has rest between their shift patterns, because if that isn’t happening, what you tend to find is people getting fatigued very easily. If that isn’t happening and rest days are being banked, it’s a dangerous situation for the public, it’s a dangerous situation for policing and it needs to be addressed.
“The Government needs to take this situation seriously because it’s quite clear the model is not working. Officers put their lives on the line for the public day after day.
“They need to listen, they need to listen quickly, because if they don’t we are on the brink of disaster.”
According to best practice, police forces should re-rota rest days when they are cancelled.
Chief Constable Richard Lewis of South Wales Police said: “Last year, South Wales Police were responsible for policing the world’s biggest sporting event, the Champions League Final, which was held in Cardiff and therefore had major ramifications for officers’ rest days in South Wales Police.
“In addition to this, our officers’ rest days were also duly affected by the heightened terror alert in 2017, which was raised nationally to critical, and the other many sporting and major events that our two capital cities attract, Cardiff and Swansea, plus additional spontaneous and planned events held across the force area.
“Cancelled rest days occur in order to enable the operational effectiveness to changing demands on the police.
“For our police force, we are often policing events that are Welsh national events such as the Six Nations or we are policing events that are UK events, such as the recent Joshua boxing fight.”
He added: “More than ever, we are mindful of police officer welfare and health and wellbeing is on the top of our agenda.
“Officer numbers have dramatically reduced over the last seven years and so more pressure is on a smaller pool of officers that we can draw from. Resilience is down and demand is up.
“The range and number of events that occur across our police force is vast and happening most weekends. This makes it difficult to reallocate rest days immediately and we haven’t got the money to pay overtime to officers either.”
The figures compound Home Office data released last summer which revealed there were 123,142 officers of all ranks in England and Wales at the end of March last year, which the report said was thought to be the lowest number since 1985.
Home Secretary Amber Rudd later told police leaders to focus on cutting crime instead of lobbying the Government for more money.
Mr MacLeod said: “We do not have the resource to engage with the public, all we’re doing is firefighting, going from one call to the next call, dealing with one crisis after another.
“That cannot continue. If we cannot engage with the public and gain intelligence from them, our policing model fails in this country.”
A Home Office spokesman said: “Policing, by its nature, can be a very challenging and demanding job and it is the responsibility of chief officers – supported by the College of Policing – to ensure that good management systems are in place to support officers in their work.”
> Calum MacLeod