Police officers in Northern Ireland are owed a staggering 20,000 ‘rest days’, a figure the Police Federation says shows the ‘unsustainable pressure’ they are under.
The number of times officers have been asked to come in on designated ‘rest days’ also shows how their lives are being disrupted, Police Federation chairman Mark Lindsay has said.
Mr Lindsay’s comments come after Chief Constable George Hamilton revealed the PSNI is facing budget cuts of more than £40 million.
Figures released under the Freedom of Information Act show that officers were collectively owed 36,100 rest days at the beginning of this year. That translates to more than one full working week – 5.5 days – for each of the 6,547 officers ranking from constable to chief inspector.
It is understood the rest days have been accrued over some time and can be carried over from previous years.
PSNI superintendent Muir Clark, meanwhile, said the total number of days owed has been reduced but remained as high as 20,528 on September 19.
Police Federation chairman Mark Lindsay said: “While the reduction is welcome, these figures illustrate the unsustainable pressures that officers are under and the extent to which the 6,963 establishment figure (the number of officers required) does not accurately reflect the demands of current day policing in Northern Ireland.
“Officer’s lives and those of their families are being badly disrupted because they’re being forced to postpone rest days in order to plug gaps in the service.
“There are staffing shortcomings that have to be acknowledged and effectively addressed. Put bluntly, we don’t have sufficient numbers of officers on the ground. We’re at least 600 short of a peacetime level, as recommended in the Patten Report and as we all know, there’s a terrorist threat level rated ‘severe’.”
Superintendent Clark meanwhile, acknowledged the impact on officer welfare of the build up of rest days but stressed that the PSNI had an “ongoing commitment to ensuring a proper work/life balance.”
He said: “Modified Rest Days have built up over a number of years because of the busy operational environment that we experience in the PSNI and the thousands of events that we police each year.
“We recognise that this has an impact on officer welfare and have introduced measures to reduce the reliance on rest day working and to manage the balance of outstanding rest days down whilst at the same time discharging our responsibility to keep people safe.”