At last, some concrete figures to support what front-line officers have been feeling over the last few years: police officers off sick with stress is up a whopping 35% in flat numbers despite a decrease in overall police numbers.
When I joined Blandshire Constabuary in 2003, there was never a shortage of people putting their hands up for voluntary overtime, to stay on dealing with shoplifters, doing scene watches, or just covering shortages on the next shift. In recent years as a sergeant, trying to find people to stay on was like pulling teeth. In the end, we'd just draw straws. Gruelling shift patterns, reduced staffing levels and reduction in rest day working payments, have all contributed.
All these measures were designed to save money and alter police conditions to bring it more in line with a "normal" job. Instead, they are forcing overtime budgets up and now we are seeing the consequence of trying to treat police officers like any other employees.
Police work is not "normal". That's not me having an inflated view of myself or my colleagues. That's fact. In any other job, if someone swears in your face and threatens you, you call a manager or for the police. If there's a fire alarm or bomb alert, you evacuate to safety. If a colleague is attacked and seriously injured, someone else will come to help you and deal with it.
In the police, you are the one that deals with these situations. I have tended to injured parties while fights go on around my head. I have been assaulted and threatened on numerous occasions. I have dealt with defecation and vomit, and still done my job. I have reassured people who were dying, even though it was hopeless. I have crept alone through darkened houses looking for intruders, because the householders were too afraid. I have been the only thing standing between a woman and the husband wanting to smash her face in. I have taken decisions that no one else wanted to take, when all my managers were asleep in bed. I have been blamed for mistakes I've made and the mistakes of others. I have seen good men and women drawn to desperate acts that lost them their jobs, due to a lack of supervision and support.
Policing is not a normal job, but it is done by normal humans. The moment you forget that, police officers will lack the support and respect needed to stay motivated, healthy, and honest. If you think that's an excuse, show me that you would be any different.
Like it or lump it, we will get the police force we pay for.
'Diary of an On-Call Girl' is available in some bookstores and online.