Police chiefs summit dominated by talk of officer safety
06 November 2017
FRONT LINE officers took centre stage to tell the UK’s most senior officers to take better care of their staff.
In a first for the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners (APCC) and National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPPC) summit, NPPC Chair Chief Constable Sara Thornton invited 2017 Bravery Award winners Sgt Elliott Richardson (Northumbria Police) and PC James Neilson (West Midlands Police) to present their views on how Britain’s police leaders can effectively help the rank and file to deal with dramatically increased demands.
Chief constable Thornton said: “2017 has been challenging. Recorded crime is up by 13 per cent with record levels of 999 calls and growing non-crime demand to bridge gaps in local services. The police service is stretched, our staff are feeling it and the public is beginning to notice it. As forces absorb pay rises the cuts are having direct effects on crime prevention and proactive police work.”
Echoing her concerns Sgt Elliott told a packed hall how their time is taken up dealing with cases involving vulnerable people, domestic abuse and mental health related situations. He described his force as having to act as the leading mental health response team for the North East of England and he explained how the response has changed in the last five years, now operating a triage system with police working alongside mental health nurses as well as carrying out their normal day to day policing.
Underlining the way distress impacts front line officers, Sgt Elliott read a resignation letter from a successful Police Constable, friend and colleague with Northumbria Police who resigned after nine years’ service last year with no real plan for her future. She cited her reasons for leaving the force as a gradual decline in health, too much work, not enough staff and over-high expectations.
“I was proud to call myself a police officer and I loved the work. In 2012 I passed my Sergeant’s exams and was fully dedicated to the job, spending many years thriving on the shifts, making decisions, helping colleagues and working together. However in 2015 I felt that the role had changed so drastically that I was no longer fulfilled and by the end of the year, I made the conscious decision to no longer act as a Sergeant.”
As her mental wellbeing declined she was diagnosed with severe anxiety, depression and stress. She said that a once confident woman with her whole career ahead of her, a real drive behind force priorities, a decision maker, was now a shell. Broken.
“By September 2016 I did not even recognise myself. I received counselling, was prescribed medication and suffered panic attacks, fear and severe anxiety which also affected my home life. The sad thing is the job could still be good, regardless of funding issues, if staff were supported, looked after and made to feel valued.”
Welfare of the team is also PC James Neilson’s biggest concern and like the initiatives to prevent crime occurring in the first place, he said a good leader should try to take care of his staff to avoid stress and anxiety problems developing.
Decreasing standards of respect from youths has made his job much harder in Birmingham City Centre, where he has been based for the last two years. “There are continual problems with homelessness and begging while incidences for knife crime have gone through the roof.”
He said that even though they are drowning in the high number of incidents, overall there is very high morale. He pointed to the support they received last New Year’s Eve when West Midlands Chief Constable Dave Thompson left the comfort of his police HQ at Lloyd House and joined officers as they tackled fights and brawls which had developed from a massive 30,000 revellers celebrating across the centre’s 30 bars. “He was fantastic, totally there with us,” said James.
“That was a fantastic encouragement,” he said adding, “This is the first time we have been asked to come to London and speak. I would ask all the police chief constables to stop spending time and money on campaigns, get back to your roots and listen to your front-line colleagues.”
On describing how staff copes with the pressures, they both called on leaders to pay more attention to the welfare of their staff. “It’s all about listening.” they said.
Steve White, Chair of the Police Federation of England and Wales said: “The nature and scale of the challenges confronting policing is constantly changing. It was very good to see federated officers contributing to this year’s summit and joining discussions about how the service is attempting to adapt to meet the needs of our communities and to keep people safe. Their comments and views must be taken seriously by Chief Constables and Police Crime Commissioners alike.”
This was the third annual conference, attended by around 300 senior leaders, experts and decision makers with an interest in policing, to discuss and shape solutions to the issues faced now and in the future.