‘A policeman’s lot is not a happy one’, so the famous phrase goes.
But when Gilbert and Sullivan penned that line for their opera, Pirates of Penzance, back in 1879, they could not have known that 140 years later it would ring truer than ever.
The damning results of a survey released by The Police Federation of England and Wales today paints a dire picture of over-stretched police officers, suffering at the hands of ever-increasing budget cuts, which are forcing more and more of them to work alone and face the traumatic and stressful situations their roles expose them to on their own.
Policing is, by its very nature, a demanding job. Those on the frontline are regularly exposed to things the rest of us will never see.
But the report highlights the extent of the damage being caused by those in frontline policing by the sharp reduction in officers, including an increase in lone working.
The survey - the only national policing study of its kind, composed with feedback from 18,000 officers of all ranks - found that almost 90% of officers are under-staffed, while 76% of officers in frontline roles were "often or always" lone working.
Lone working officer, Mick Johnson’s traumatic tale of being diagnosed with PTSD after being stabbed in the arm whilst responding to a call alone, along with the case of a detective constable whose 18-hour working days led to a breakdown and almost ended his marriage, are stark reminders of the very real toll being taken on the mental health of lone working staff that are out there protecting the public.
The survey also found that:
- 79% of officers have experienced feelings of stress and anxiety in the previous 12 months, with 94% of those saying their job made it worse.
- Almost every officer has been exposed to at least one traumatic experience in their career, with 61.7% suffering at least one in the last 12 months.
- 43.9% reported they viewed their job as very or extremely stressful, up from 38.6% in 2016.
Since 2010, central government funding to police forces has been cut by almost a third, in real terms, leading the number of officers to fall by 21,000.
And PFEW's national vice-chairman Che Donald said that the survey's results:
"should be a huge red flag to the government, chief constables and the public".
"The police service's most valuable resource is its people.
"Officers are stressed, exhausted and consistently exposed to things people should never have to see - and these results show just how much it is taking its toll."
In December, the government announced an extra £300m to help pay for pension expenses and other costs for police forces in England and Wales.
Policing minister Nick Hurd said: "We take the wellbeing of police officers and staff very seriously, which is why we launched the Front Line Review to listen to their concerns and have invested £7.5m in a new national police wellbeing service.
"I am delighted that Parliament has approved our funding package for next year.
"This funding settlement recognises the demands on police forces, and police and crime commissioners are already setting out plans to recruit more officers as a result."
There is nothing more valuable to any police force than the officers at its heart. The fact that so many of those dedicating their lives to protect the public feel so let down, alone, exhausted, stressed and traumatised, is scandalous. Lone working does and is affecting the well-being of our police force. It’s time for the Government to react urgently to their concerns with action - not lip service - before our policing service, and the heroes at its core, are on their knees.
You may also find this article useful:
Who do lone workers talk too?
Although there is currently not a law in place specifically for lone working, as an employee you have a duty of care towards your lone workers. Here are few things that you can do to create a safer environment which builds trust between you and your lone workers and will make your staff feel at ease in talking to you about any incidents that have happened or problems they have faced:
- Have risk assessments in place for each lone worker in order to identify their needs efficiently and make sure they know exactly what to report.
- Make them feel like they are not just a lone worker - provide programmes on mental well-being and if there has been something particularly distressing...