Police reforms are not strong enough

Management
within the police forces has to improve if the Government’s reforms are to
deliver a better service

There
is a strong theme to the Government’s proposals for police reform – the service
needs to be much better managed.

Sickness
rates in most forces are high. Average sick days lost per officer per year vary
from 8.6 to 16.1. The public sector average is 10.2 and the private sector is
7.2. If average sickness levels in every force were to be reduced by just two
days a year, that would be equivalent to recruiting an extra 1,200 officers.

Nationally,
almost a third of officers retire on ill-health grounds and, in one force, it
is almost two- thirds. Police officers are more likely to be injured than many
other workers and it is only right that those hurt on duty should be properly
provided for – but these figures are too high.

The
Government response is a strategy that includes early health screening,
fast-track diagnosis and moving officers to duties they can cope with
physically.

Many
forces are already trying to implement what the Government is now proposing but
are being constrained by legislation.

Police
forces have no clear legal power to fund private medical treatment – as a
result there are officers off sick and on NHS waiting lists for many months. In
some cases, the condition of officers has deteriorated so much while waiting
for treatment, that they have retired onill-health grounds rather than being
treated.

At
present, the law says an officer who cannot perform the full duties of a
constable (such as chasing burglars across a roof and dealing with riots) must
be ill-health retired, even if that officer’s actual job is to watch TV
monitors, or investigate fraud. This rule also applies to senior officers whose
physical duties are very similar to a manager in any other organisation.

Furthermore,
from day one, all officers are entitled by law to six months full sick pay and
six months half pay. Once on half pay, if an officer comes back to work for
just one day then they automatically become entitled to another six months on
half pay. There is little a force can do to tackle persistent absentees –
officers cannot be disciplined for poor attendance.

There
is nothing in the Government’s current proposals to remove any of these legal
impediments to effective absence management.

The
police reforms also propose the adoption of more family-friendly policies as
well as greater investment in accommodation for staff to attract a broader
range of people to the service. There are also suggestions for additional
incentives to reward particular effort. These are sensible proposals and one
may wonder why they are not happening anyway.

In
some of the forces there is a positive approach, but not everywhere. The reason
for this is because too many police managers still see themselves more as
individuals who direct operations rather than managers or leaders of people and
resources. The consequence of this is not only an historic lack of investment
in staff development and support, but also a lack of understanding surrounding
the role of performance management.

The
Government needs to enable managers by removing the legal restrictions, but it
also needs a strategy to increase the number of good quality managers in the
service.

The
laws that provide a shield behind which poor managers hide must go and forces
must bring in more good managers from outside the service. There is no sign
that the Government has recognised this need.

The
release of talent and resource that would result from the combined changes of
less regulation and better management would enable the police service to
improve performance considerably. If that was to happen, the Government’s
controversial and expensive plan to use civilian wardens would no longer be
necessary.

By
Mike Campbell, HR consultant and former director of corporate support, City of
London Police

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