PC Bloggs Investigates... Wibble
Which is why, when Sir Denis' HMIC report states that some officers work as few as 171 days in a year, the best results being 208 days, you can't blame well-respected broadsheet newspapers for jumping at the news. From much of the report, it is clear that Sir Denis has kept his finger on the pulse of police blogging for the last five years: he names risk-aversion and performance culture as two of the biggest causes of unnecessary expenditure in the police.
But let's dig a little deeper. The average civilian in an average job works approximately a 40-hour week, broken down into 5 days of 8 hours. Over the course of a year, this equates to 260 days spent at work. After 25 days' annual leave and 5 days' sickness, that's 230 days, barely more than half of the year themselves.
Police officers generally work a variation on a 24/7 shift pattern that takes into account the need for overlapping shifts on weekends. This means the shifts are usually 9-12 hours long, let's say an average of 10 hours. It won't be broken down this way, but this means to reach their average 40-hour week, police officers are effectively working a 4-day week (some weeks will be 6-7 days, others 3-4). They have less home and social time on days they work, but more days off. Therefore their total working days a year equals 208. Taking into account sickness and annual leave, that comes out at 178 days. Not including overtime.
The media don't care about the above, why would they? Their job is merely to regurgitate supposed facts that add to the weight of suspicion and mistrust of the police: that we don't work hard, we don't do long hours, we are basically milking overtime and skiving at the same time. Hence this Channel 4 report stating that Sir Denis identifies 30 officers involved in a burglary case from start to finish. The "7" officers identified in the custody process - if you read the report properly - actually includes gaolers and the police doctor: for a start they are not "officers" and secondly, they multi-task dealing with dozens of prisoners each day. The call-takers, crime-recorders and file-builders involved (none police officers) all juggle a caseload that no front-line police officer could possibly manage, hence it is a reasonably efficient way of structuring a force.
I am all for improvements to the police, and if the clamp down on our budgets means that we are now forced to abandon much of the performance-related and risk-averse bureaucracy that has built up under the last government, I'm all for that too.
But I'm all against the twisting of meaningless statistics to point out non-existent failings. I'm against the blind reporting of these facts with no interrogation. And I'm against the further villainisation of a group of public sector workers who share none of the rights of a normal employee, and take greater physical risks.
Who is going to call Sir Denis on the distorted and misleading data in this report?
'Diary of an On-Call Girl' is available in some bookstores and online.