New figures show police in Suffolk and Essex owed 12,000 unclaimed rest days as staff struggle to meet demand

Police are investigating the robbery on Ainslie Road in Ipswich. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Police are investigating the robbery on Ainslie Road in Ipswich. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN - Credit: Archant

Police officers across Suffolk and Essex are owed over 12,000 days in unclaimed rest time, as a high demand for staff continues to put a strain on resources.

Officers have often been forced to run on empty as a result of cancelled, outstanding or rescheduled time off, which has been attributed to pressures associated with last year’s string of terrorist attacks and a number of large scale planned operations.

In Suffolk, a total of 1,083 police officers are owed 4,756 days in lieu as of October last year – which is equivalent to roughly two weekends missed per officer.

In Essex, 2,566 officers are owed 7,907 rest days over the same time frame, working out at just over three days per person.

The figures date back to the latter part of 2017 – the last time the country’s terror alert was at “critical”.

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.

According to best practice, police forces should re-rota rest days when they are cancelled.

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A Suffolk Constabulary spokesman said: “The wellbeing of our officers and staff is important to us - we are committed to proactive and reactive strategies to increase good health and wellbeing in our policing teams.

“We are extremely grateful to our officers and staff who deliver despite having to undertake challenging roles, often performed in difficult circumstances, on a daily basis.

“The force has a workplace health, safety and well-being strategy in place which is reviewed and developed regularly.

“Staff are able to access a range of services to support them including mental health support, health education and online resources.

“We have policies in place to effectively manage sickness absence and maintain contact with those that are away from the workplace.

“A healthy workforce is required for an excellent delivery to our community, and we will continue to work hard to ensure we have a healthy and resilient workforce.

“The force monitors rest days on a regular basis as part of its overall approach to balancing the welfare needs of its officers and staff against the need for service delivery.

“Sometimes rest days have to be cancelled to ensure incidents and events are staffed to the best of our ability.

“Careful consideration is always undertaken when rest days are being discussed, the decision is never taken lightly when we do cancel them.

“The force understands the importance of rest days for our officers and when appropriate we try to reschedule them to ensure the welfare of each of our officers is met.”

Essex Police Detective Chief Constable BJ- Harrington said he was grateful to the force’s officers for their dedication, but appreciated time off was “important for the health and wellbeing of staff”.

He said: “Our officers and police staff at Essex Police work hard to tackle crime and keep the county safe.

“Sometimes this means they are called upon to work rest days and I am grateful for the commitment and dedication that they show.

“We try and minimise the times when officers are called upon to work days off and this data equates to about three days per officer for the year.

“There are times when we will require officers to work such as after the terrorist attacks last year or for large scale planned operations, but we try and minimise this and give people as much notice as possible where we can.

“However, when we do this we are always mindful this is not more officers, but the same number doing more.

“Sometimes I know officers also volunteer to work a day off to ensure they finish a job they started for a victim of crime and once again we should all be grateful for this dedication as this is not more officers, but the same number doing more work.”

The news comes as Calum McLeod, chairman of Police Federation in England and Wales, has warned eight out of 10 police officers are displaying signs of depression or anxiety as a result of “doing too much.”

Mr McLeod said that cutbacks in police welfare departments had depleted forces’ ability to provide enough support and wellbeing resources to their officers, and revealed that some counselling services had been outsourced as a result.

He added that around 21,500 fewer officers are on the streets now, compared to nine years ago.

DCC BJ-Harrington also recognised that cancelling rest days could put a strain on officers’ mental and physical health.

He added: “Time off is important for the health and wellbeing of staff as time to rest and spend time with families and loved ones. “We recognise the impact on officers and as a force we have invested our ‘feel well, live well’ scheme as well as occupational health support and are signed up to other support such as the Mind Blue Light Campaign.

“We work with the Police Federation, Unison and Superintendents Association and share the same objectives of keeping Essex safe whilst ensuring the welfare of officers and staff and where possible, we consult with them and explain when we need to require people to work days off.”

A Police Federation report on officers’ pay and morale last year indicated that over the previous year, a larger proportion of officers said their morale had been “negatively affected by their work-life balance, their health and wellbeing, their workload and responsibilities”.

Out of more than 30,500 respondents, roughly 85% said that the way police were treated had a negative effect on their morale, while only 4% said it affected them positively. More than two in three said they did not feel valued.

Discussing the overwhelming number of unclaimed rest days, Mr McLeod 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.”

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