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Frontline officers are exhausted, Oscar Kilo chief warns

Frontline officers are exhausted from months of policing major events and fatigue is a serious concern, a chief constable has warned.

Lancashire's Chief Constable warned that a run of major events, including the Extinction Rebellion protests, had already impacted on officers before the COVID-19 outbreak.

CC Andy Rhodes, also the NPCC Wellbeing Lead and Service Director for Oscar Kilo, warned the lockdown – on top of dealing with normal policing - had left officers exhausted. He added he is concerned this is now being accepted as the ‘norm’.

During the past year, rest days and leave have been cancelled after mutual aid requests from forces to deal with major events including the NATO conference, Brexit marches, Extinction Rebellion protests and Black Lives Matter demonstrations.

The COVID-19 outbreak has impacted on leave – as well as where officers can travel – and CC Rhodes said the frontline officers had been hit hardest.

CC Rhodes said: "In terms of fatigue, PCs were the worst affected. Half had less than six hours of sleep a night. All of them talked about sleep disruption from being on call.

"I believe fatigue is the next big thing after mental health issues and we need to reduce the stigma about fatigue as it is kind of accepted that everyone is exhausted."

Concerns were raised with senior officers early in the outbreak and his warning was based on data from the first major survey of workforce wellbeing which was published in June.

It revealed 49.1% of officers reported having had two or more rest days cancelled in the past 12 months, with 17.7% reporting four or more rest day cancellations.

It also found 67% of officers reported feeling symptoms of post-traumatic stress.

Mr Rhodes told Police Oracle that work with organisations including the Police Federation was under way to resolve the problem.  

He said: “The data that we now have on fatigue came from the first-ever national workforce survey on wellbeing that highlight this as a priority area for us to address. Funded by the Home Office, the National Police Wellbeing Service has established a fatigue working group comprising staff associations, practitioners and experts in the field.”

But he also admitted that currently each force is individually having to resolve delayed leave and cancelled rest days.  

“Raising awareness of the risks associated with fatigue, providing training and educational materials are some of the areas they’re working on as we speak. However, much of the responsibility for tackling fatigue rests with the organisation,” he said.

Police leaders said Mr Rhodes was right to raise concerns.

President of the Police Superintendents’ Association, Paul Griffiths told Police Oracle: “We know that before Covid-19, our members, and officers at all ranks were experiencing some of the highest levels of demand they have ever faced, which is having a significant impact on their mental health and resilience levels.

“2020 has then posed challenges like nothing we’ve seen before and it’s crucial that we’re mindful of the impact this is having. We’re proudly a resilient, responsive Service, and have shown this to an incredible extent in recent months, but our duty of care to our people must mirror that of our duty to the public.”

Federation leads for each force in the country have called for action to relieve the pressure on officers. They have also warned that the pressure on officers is not just limited to frontline officers; CID teams often work past 11pm.

The Police Federation together with Police Oracle has been campaigning for a Police Covenant to ensure the welfare of officers is enshrined in law. The Home Secretary has pledged to enshrine the commitment in law with legislation due to be introduced in the next Parliamentary session.

In the meantime, the Federation has issued guidance for staff on how to resolve leave and rest days as “it is a matter for individual forces”. It also advises staff to raise their issue with a line manager, a colleague, staff support or the Federation.

The PSA is also working with the Fed and other senior officers to reduce the impact on officers.

Paul Griffiths said: “Workforce wellbeing is key to the work of our association – not only in relation to our members, but for the entire police family. We’ll be continuing our work with the National Police Wellbeing Service, whilst further consulting with our members to support wellbeing initiatives in whatever way we can.”

Fatigue was also raised as a concern in the officer safety review by the National Police Chiefs’ Council. It revealed that the biggest killer of police officers is their journey to and from work.

The NPCC also encouraged officers should still take their holidays even if there were limits because of the COVID-19 outbreak “accepting that travel restrictions limit the options”.

The same advice stands for Rest Days as “Police Regulations cover these situations and all forces are required to comply”.

It added that officer fatigue is a priority issue and forces have policies in place to avoid people accumulating them. Work is under way to establish a fatigue working group that will raise with managers the risks of fatigue.

The NPCC added: “In the same way we recognise there is a stigma relating to mental health, we believe fatigue is often something that is not talked about enough. The first step is to accept that it is an issue.”

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