12 January 2022
The current absence rate for police offices and staff nationally stands at 9.4 per cent, according to new data released by the National Police Chief’s Council (NPCC).
While anything under 10 per cent is considered to be within manageable levels, this is an increase in the steady figures of five to six per cent that we have seen throughout the most part of 2020 and 2021. These figures encompass all absences within the workforce, not only absence related to Omicron or Covid generally.
The impact of this absence rate on rank and file officers, when policing is already understaffed should not to be diminished. While forces have adapted and made the necessary changes to working patterns to ensure they can meet public demand, officers are undoubtedly fatigued from several years of understaffing. With increases in overtime and average shifts lasting more than the 10 hours maximum (as suggested by the Home Office) the pressure on officers and staff is growing.
The PFEW Demand, Capacity and Welfare Survey of 2020 indicated that officers are often working long hours with limited access to rest and recuperation; with the current health crisis exacerbating these problems for many officers. Respondents to the survey indicated that 70 per cent of their team or unit had a minimum officer staffing level, with almost a fifth of this number indicating that the minimum level was never or rarely reached. Almost half of those officers indicated that when these levels are not met, it has a major effect on their ability to meet demand.
Overall, minimum staffing levels in policing are inadequate and often remain unmet irrespective of the current pandemic. Despite this, officers have continued to rise to the challenge whilst working on the frontline; with some fulfilling duties that expand past the publicly visible work of enforcement. Their resilience should be commended, but more needs to be done to relieve the burden placed on officers across England and Wales through low staffing and absence rates.