Police Federation

Blog: Are police forces failing their disabled officers?

Equality Lead Ian Saunders raises concerns over Met Commissioner Sir Mark Rowley’s comments in The Times relating to officers on adjusted duties.

14 December 2022


Equality Lead Ian Saunders raises concerns over Met Commissioner Sir Mark Rowley’s comments in The Times relating to officers on adjusted duties, and presses for all managers to be trained on the employment provisions of the Equality Act, including the duty to provide reasonable adjustments, as Fed reps are constantly negotiating for members what the force should be providing under the law.

Why does the police service find it so hard to understand that disabled police officers exist and that it is the force’s job to respond positively to retain them in the workplace?

For an interview with The Times last month, Sir Mark Rowley said: “We can’t deal with a workforce where such a big proportion are not properly deployable. Many of these people, they can’t work shifts, or they can’t work many hours in a day, or they can only have limited contact with the public.”

What he is talking about here is police officers on adjusted duties, most if not all of whom will be disabled people. What he misunderstands is it is in fact his job to “deal” with the small (and manageable) percentage of his workforce who are disabled and require the reasonable adjustments they are entitled to in law.

Less than 5 per cent of officers nationally are on adjusted duties, and whilst this figure is higher for the Met (and it should explore why that is), it is a small fraction of the workforce and easily accommodated if forces properly organised their ways of working.

For 19 years the police service has thrown its hands in the air at no longer being able to easily retire people early and having to retain disabled officers. Previous chief constables and commissioners lobbied the Home Office to keep the service out of the disability legislation and have continued to do so periodically since. Sir Mark is doing so again.

He is missing the point – that the disability legislation is designed to keep disabled people in work where they can contribute to the public purse through tax and national insurance rather than drawing state benefits. Enabling disabled people to stay in work benefits not just their own mental and physical wellbeing but benefits the country too. Forces too can benefit but they need to change the way they do business to ensure they have people with the right skills in the right roles.

What the service should do is finally accept - 19 years after they were first required to by the then Disability Discrimination Act - that disabled police officers are a reality and account for this when planning for what roles and shifts it needs.

Forces still insist that to do a large number of roles, an officer must be able to perform full rotating shifts – why? If for example an officer receives medical advice that they shouldn’t work nights, there should be space in the rota to keep them on the team. The rest of the team may need to be reorganised and it may not be “fair” to those who need to work more nights as a result, but they will be compensated by receiving the unsocial hours payment.

Why do forces insist that officers who fail the in-service fitness test are automatically removed from operational roles? We know that many are able to perform officer safety training (and an operational role) but for medical reasons, either physical or mental, may not be able to pass the job-related fitness test. Rather than taking medical advice as to the officer’s capabilities they are too often side-lined into unsuitable jobs.

The starting point should be that the reasonable adjustment is, wherever possible, implemented in the role the officer is currently doing. What’s wrong with a disabled police officer doing more of some types of tasks a team are required to do whilst the vast majority of officers do a bit more of the tasks they are unable to do?

The issue I think is the service’s warped view about what is “fair”. Culturally in the police service it is seen as unfair if some people get more of what is thought to be the plum jobs or shifts, and others get more of the prunes. Fairness in this equation is everyone doing exactly the same. This train of thought persisting shows the total lack of understanding of equality legislation in the service.

In the real world (and in law) fairness is about everyone being given the opportunity to contribute what they are able to, with any barriers to that being minimised – it is not fair to insist everyone should be the same and work the same. It is the exact opposite as it excludes those who, for whatever reason, are unable to. They can however still contribute to the team, but in a different way or at a different time.

Sir Mark also said: “There does come a point that, if you can’t be match fit to be a police officer, then it’s challenging for us in that it’s a large number of people we can’t properly deploy.”

This is a really saddening comment from one of the most senior police officer in the country. Disabled officers across the country will have felt a familiar pang of recognition of his comment that they are not “match fit”. Sadly, this casually discriminatory comment from the commissioner is one that colleagues across the land hear on a daily basis. The service is so comfortable with the way it discriminates against disabled officers it doesn’t even notice when it’s doing so.

So how to achieve change? Well don’t look to the College to provide any useful advice. Earlier this month it published a wafer thin “toolkit” for forces on reasonable workplace adjustments that, whilst briefly covering the bases of the law, provides nothing specific relating to the role of a police officer.

We still keep fighting for our members. Last year, as we do every year, we spent more than £2 million on external legal support alone to counter the unlawful disability discrimination of our disabled members.

The real work however is by our workplace reps who are constantly having to negotiate for our members what the force should be providing under the law. The sad thing is that whilst we achieve outcomes for our individual members, there is evidently little change at force level.

We think every manager in the service - up to and including the commissioner of the Met- should be trained on the employment provisions of the Equality Act, including the duty to provide reasonable adjustments and what this should look like in the police service.

Not more diversity training, but actual information about the law that applies to our members. We know the discrimination our members face mostly comes from a lack of understanding rather than malice, but it’s been like this for 19 years now and the service needs to enter the real world.

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