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Cambridgeshire police 'working 14-hour shifts' as overtime soars

By Alex Spencer

Police and paramedics are at the scene of the incident
Police and paramedics are at the scene of the incident

Cambridgeshire Police Federation has warned that many officers are working 14-hour days and some have not seen their family for two weeks due to staff shortages.

Cambridgeshire Police Federation is warning of long shifts for police officers
Cambridgeshire Police Federation is warning of long shifts for police officers

Figures released by Cambridgeshire Constabulary under the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act reveal the total number of hours worked by police officers has increased by 28 per cent since last year.

And the federation says it has received FOI data that shows Cambridgeshire police spent £3,540,785 on overtime payments in the last financial year – an increase of £937,092.

Oz Merrygold, branch board secretary for the Cambridgeshire Police Federation, said: “I regularly hear of officers working 13 or 14-hour shifts. Overtime is cheaper than employing another officer. It is cheaper for the force to throw money at the problem than to recruit.

“The problem is police officers can’t refuse to do overtime if requested. I have had officers break down in front of me – some haven’t seen their families for two weeks. Stress isn’t just work-based stress – it can be just not seeing your family.

“Officers are going home at two or three in the morning. When they wake up they don’t see their kids before school. Then they are back at work before the children come home.”

He added that as well as overtime, officers were faced with changing shift patterns to make the force more efficient, but which often meant working late hours as frontline officers were needed on night shifts.

“Officers are leaving because they want to get their work-life balance back. We haven’t got the resources to recruit fast enough to fill the gaps. We need a lot more than the 150 officers promised by the commissioner.

“The message to the commissioner is thank you for the extra officers you have promised but we need more. That will only get us back to pre-2013 levels of staffing because the demand has moved on.”

He put down the extra pressure to austerity measures, which has meant that officer numbers were maintained rather than increased, and growing demands on the police’s time.

Data provided by Cambridgeshire police reveals that in 2016-17 the total number of hours worked was 100,170, but in 2017-18 that had leapt to 128,283, an increase of 28 per cent.

These figures included collaborated officers who are paid by Cambridgeshire, mutual aid operations for other forces, private use of police – such as football and sporting events – and bank holidays paid at double time. Not every officer is in a frontline role and some volunteer for more overtime than others.

A police spokesperson added that those working additional hours at the end of a shift are supervised by their managers to ensure they have had the necessary breaks and are fit for duty.

When asked why the overtime levels were so high, Chief Superintendent Chris Mead replied in a statement: “The nature of our work means certain elements of our work cannot be predicted and there may be occasions where we are required to increase staffing levels at short notice to manage major incidents or pre-planned operations.

“Over the past few months we have provided mutual aid to a number of forces, for events such as the visit by President Donald Trump and the Wiltshire nerve agent incidents. Each time we facilitate these requests we need to backfill those officers we send.

“The summer months are traditionally a time when we see demand increase, and an increase in officer annual leave, and in preparation we are running a dedicated operation to ensure we have the resources needed.

“The nature of our role means that unfortunately we cannot always stick to our working hours and there are occasions when we are required to stay on shift to deal with emergencies or serious crimes.

“Overtime is paid for a number of reasons. This includes working late on a shift, where there is additional need for resources, for private use of police such as sporting events and Bank Holidays. Not all overtime is mandatory or as a result of working late officers are regularly given the opportunity to volunteer for overtime to support operational policing.

“We have implemented a new organisational structure that will put more officers on the frontline and enable us to improve our service and the way we manage our demand.”

He added: “The policing landscape has changed significantly in the past few years which has seen an increase in demand and the emergence of new crime types and issues. In response the to these changes we introduced a new policing model in April focused on dealing with modern day policing issues, while improving the service to the public and working environment for officers.

“This model has seen a reduction in senior officers to enable us to increase the number of officers on the frontline. Savings made from the review have been reinvested in additional officers and that, alongside the PCC’s commitment to increase officer numbers, will mean an additional 150 PCs over the coming months.

“Since February we have welcomed an additional 107 officers to the force and have a number of intakes planned over the next two years.

“Nationally policing is facing significant challenges and Cambridgeshire is no different but we have put plans in place utilising the funding available to us.

“The welfare of our officers is a priority and we have a long established support system in place. Sadly the nature of our role means that we are more at risk to mental illness and therefore we have invested heavily in providing training and support to managers to identify those in need of help.

“We have worked with Mind for a number of years to use their Blue Light Programme. This has included providing resilience training for staff, setting up Blue Light Champions to act as contacts for those in need of support and running workshops on mental health for supervisors.”

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