13 June 2018
FRONTLINE police are in danger of being pushed to breaking point, Britain’s Chief Inspector of Constabulary said yesterday. Overwork, rising crime and the “gruesome” side of policing are subjecting officers to “undue strain”, said Sir Thomas Winsor.
Forces must assess the “mental health and welfare” of staff “and ensure they are given the support they need”.
Sir Thomas warned: “If you stretch people to breaking point, they will break.” “Exhausted people who have not had a break from doing arduous work for a long time will not perform at their best.”
The watchdog’s words are echoed by rank-and-file leaders who claim budget cuts have left policing in crisis.
There are 121,929 officers in England and Wales, nearly 22,000 fewer than eight years ago, according to the Police Federation of England and Wales.
Eight out of 10 are suffering from depression or anxiety, while 237,697 “rest days” are owed to 70,000 officers.
Sir Thomas criticised police leaders for taking advantage of the “never-say-no” attitude of the rank and file.
He said: “If a police force’s most important assets – its people – are under undue strain, whether in terms of workload or the nature of the work and the effects on them, the force’s ability to serve the public is compromised.”
Police Federation chairman Calum Macleod said: “This report highlights what many of us involved in policing already know – that it is the dedication and a sense of duty of hardworking officers that keeps the police service running.
“Because frontline police officers and staff can be relied on to get the job done there is less pressure on leaders to bring about much-needed change."
But to rely on frontline officers consistently working at a level which goes way beyond what it is expected of them is a disgraceful and unsustainable state of affairs.”
In his State Of Policing report – the annual assessment of policing in England and Wales – Sir Thomas warned that innocent people are at risk of being jailed because police lack basic knowledge of the legal system.
Of the high-profile collapse of several rape trials in which officers failed to disclose key evidence, he said:
“These cases strike at the very heart of our legal system and leave our confidence in it severely shaken. They damage people’s lives. At the moment, constables do not receive sufficient and specific training in this area. As almost all police officers begin and end their careers as constables, this is unsustainable.”
Sir Thomas also urged police chiefs to embrace the latest technology to “interrogate” the huge amount of material now held on electronic devices.
But he said steps taken by internet giants “to make sure their services cannot be abused by terrorists, paedophiles and organised criminals are inadequate”.
“Impenetrable” coded messaging has made life easier for criminals, he said.
“If the giants of that world continue to devise ways to frustrate law enforcement...the case for compulsion will be ever stronger.”