Since the announcement of the Winsor Review of police pay and conditions, there had been a steady release of stories undermining public support for the police (at least, what is left of it).
This week we see the Taxpayers' Alliance in Wales criticising the police for one in ten officers being on some form of restricted duties. You can also read today about police officers "pocketing" £3.8billion in overtime over the last ten years. The terminology tells you just how unbiassed the media are in reporting police-related stories. Then again, it wouldn't be much of a headline if it it read "Police officers have been paid for necessary hours worked in the last ten years".
The timing of this latest study should trigger reflection. The figures have come from The Policy Exchange, a supposedly independent, charity-funded think tank. Its previous directors have gone onto become Conservative MPs, Tory advisors, Parliamentary aides, etc. Is it any surprise that they choose to release this particular piece of analysis right now, when Home Secretary Theresa May is garnering support for her reform of police pay and conditions?
As for the data itself, why are people surprised that the overtime bill has been so high? Police bloggers have been talking about the ever-thinner blue line for the last decade. When front-line resources are short, your only option to cover all outstanding emergencies is to pay overtime. Indeed Blandshire Constabulary has gone through periods when over 50% of my team was on a daily basis being made up of officers working rest days or extended shifts, because we just didn't have enough staff to police my town. If that doesn't scare the bejesus out of any member of the public, it should.
The simple answer is that there's one way to cut down on overtime and that's to employ more police officers. Cameron can bleat about back-office cuts as much as he wants, and he was absolutely right eighteen months ago.
But the back office is being stripped bare. Yes, many totally unnecessary roles are finally being binned. But also going is much of the support system that has been propping up the front-line for the last decade. In a couple of years, when the cuts take effect, overtime will once again be the only way we can actually survive.
'Diary of an On-Call Girl' is available in some bookstores and online.