Federation offers suggestions on how to tackle stresses

Northern Ireland Police Federation Chairman Mark Lindsay
Northern Ireland Police Federation Chairman Mark Lindsay

The Police Federation of Northern Ireland (PFNI) has supplied the News Letter with a list of the top 10 stresses on police officers - and 10 steps to address them.

Six stresses relate to officers working excessive hours with little time off. The other four relate to physical and mental injuries and the fact that their pay is cut in half if they are off sick for over six months as a result.

Suggested solutions involve treating junior staff with more value, lobbying for funds for more officers, and acting on the results of staff morale surveys.

In June the PFNI annual conference heard that burnt-out PSNI officers want the Chief Constable and Justice Minister to lobby the Treasury for funding to reach minimum safe staffing levels recommended by Patten.

The PSNI has 6,800-6,900 officers but Patten recommended 7,500 officers in “a totally peaceful environment” - a shortage of 600 officers despite the high dissident threat.

Officers took well over 30,000 sick days in 2015.

Federation chairman Mark Lindsay said: “Northern Ireland tends to be compared with similar forces – but there are no similar forces.

“We are compared with Liverpool or Merseyside, but they can quite frequently send one officer out to do what may need two to four officers in Northern Ireland.”

A 2015 survey showed very low morale in 96% of officers.

PFNI speaks for officers up to and including chief inspector rank.

TEN STRESSES ON OFFICERS

1. Fewer officers and increased demands mean added pressure. Doing more with less may sound good but it has knock-on consequences.

2. Officers are unable to take their rest days.

3. Time off is a luxury.

4. Planning leave is exceptionally difficult.

5. Family life suffers – no quality time with kids and partners.

6. Service has an over-reliance on short-notice overtime.

7. Officers increasingly worried about incurring injuries which may impact on their careers.

8. If recovering from a serious physical injury or a mental condition such as PTSD, the officer could be off work for months. If off for six months or more, they go to half pay. Off more than a year, pay is cut to zero.

9. All combined, means days lost run into tens of thousands (37,674 days lost last year because of psychological illnesses – up 60 per cent on 2013). That has an adverse impact on the service to the public.

10. The Police Federation for Northern Ireland, recognising the extent of the problem, decided to invest £1 million over three years in a Psychological Wellbeing Fund designed to assist officers in need of professional care.

TEN ACTIONS TO HELP OFFICERS

1. Start valuing the work that is done at the coalface.

2. Recognise that resources are insufficient and work with us on a campaign to get adequate funding.

3. Recruit up to 600 more officers which would bring the tally up to the peacetime figure envisaged by Patten (and, as we know, we’re far from a peacetime situation).

4. Rebuild morale (as per our workforce survey last year). It showed dissatisfaction with senior management team.

5. Listen to officer concerns, as articulated regularly by the staff association, the PFNI.

6. More movement on flexible working.

7. Assurances around rest days.

8. We seek a commitment from both the PSNI and the DoJ to step up to the mark with adequate funding for officers suffering psychological conditions, as highlighted in our submission to the draft Programme for Government Framework.

9. The PSNI often deal with the shortfalls and failings of other statutory bodies regarding vulnerable people with mental health issues and high-risk missing persons. Other agencies need to do more in this respect.

10. We’d like to see more emphasis on Neighbourhood Policing.

See also: ‘We want police chiefs to support us on the ground’

And: Chief Constable’s detailed response - exclusive to the News Letter