‘I used to be proud of this job. I loved the fact that we could fight crime. My family was proud. It was a good job. It’s just changed so much. It’s easy to solve crime, there’s so much evidence these days, but the job’s got mired down in things that don’t matter.’
Job: Police Constable.
Typical hours worked: 37.
Profile: James is 59 and lives in the Thames Valley with his wife.
I started off as a Roofer, before switching to police work. I was on a plane going on holiday and I saw an ad for police jobs. I thought ‘that sounds interesting’, so I applied and got in and thought, ‘what a great job’. That was 2001.
The job’s changed massively since then. The first 10 years were very enjoyable but then it began going downhill, which is why they have such a retention problem. You previously just needed common sense. We’d go out on a night shift, and you’d be like ‘Let’s go out and catch people doing bad things’ and we did that. Now you can’t do that; we don’t fight crime anymore. These days, you've got to be very computer literate. You've got to be able to multitask and do a lot more things than when I first joined. I think a lot of police officers these days are thinking, ‘I’ve got a university degree, I can get another nine to five with more money and benefits and I don’t need to meet the public’.
My working day
I’m a Police Constable, which is frontline policing. We react to everything involved in investigating crime. It’s a difficult role to pigeonhole. One day you’re dealing with a murder and the next day a dispute over a fence. Roads police only turn up if it’s a fatal accident, major crime go around in pairs and only investigate a serious murder or something and CID won’t touch anything if it’s not in their remit. So everything tends to funnel down to response, which is me.
I work from a small police station with six or seven others. Together with police from other stations across the area, we cover the whole of the Thames Valley. We work a rotating shift pattern for six days with four days off. We’ll do one shift from 7am to 4pm or 5pm, and another from the afternoon until about 3am. On a night shift, you’ll start about 9pm or 10pm.
With your leave days though, you’ll be coming off a nightshift, so that first day’s a write-off. Also, you only get one weekend off in five, so there’s not much downtime with your family.
An early shift is the chance to get work done, arrange a statement, do an interview, investigate something. Starting in the afternoon means picking up the debris from the previous shift, so you don’t really get anything done. On nights, people don’t want to be contacted, so you’ve got a very small window of when you can get hold of people.
Trouble is, you can turn up for an early and be put on cell watch which means you’re sat in front of a cell for your entire shift. You can’t use your phone or a computer. You have to study that prisoner. We also cover for people who’ve been abstracted for operations, commitments and warrants, so there’s always a shortfall.
You can never plan anything. You find yourself on the backfoot all the time. We’re trained to do interviews and all the rest of it, but CID (major crime) have access to much better systems and training. We tend to bumble along, which is probably why we get a lot of criticism from the public – we’re trying to do things but we’re just not able to. It didn’t help when so many police jobs were cut.
You get allocated jobs by your Sergeant and normally run about 10 or 15 at a time. You have to try and balance that many victims within your time commitments. That’s manageable if you’re working hard, but we’ve had systems before where we were asked to manage 50 to 60 jobs and that was totally unreasonable. When you work a job, you initially make contact with the victim and agree with them to be in touch whenever there’s an update. You try to get a statement from them and then investigate the crime which could be anything from community resolution, caution, court, magistrates, indictable offence. That’s the way you progress it.
There’s a big paperwork element to the job that’s grown so much that I really don’t know where to turn. We used to do a fast-track guilty file, where you’ve arrested someone, conducted an interview and they’ve said ‘Yes, I did it’. You could fast track and get a file to the CPS in three or four hours. Now, that takes about four or five days. If you make a mistake, which does happen because you’re doing this at 3am when you’ve done a load of shifts, it can take you another two months to get it approved again. People get away with stuff because everything’s overcomplicated. We haven’t got time to investigate anymore or be proactive. I haven’t done a warrant in about 10 years, and we used to do one every three or four months.
Health and wellbeing
My role involves a lot of driving at high speed. Government guidelines are for us to get there in 15 minutes, but you can be called to something that’s 45 minutes away, because we don’t just work locally anymore. Plus, if you’ve got to travel for that long to get a statement or gather evidence, then travel back, you’ve probably lost four hours out of your working shift.
We’ve got a red emergency button on the radio to say, ‘Officer in trouble’. Every officer should pretty much race to your position but that’s not always the case. I’ve been in the situation where I was working with someone who’d been knocked out, and the offender was trying to punch my head in, but there was virtually no response. They’re just so far away that they can’t get to you. Working across such a large area without boundaries doesn’t work.
We don’t even have the right equipment. Our radios don’t work everywhere because there’s intermittent coverage. We don’t have waterproof hats even though we’re stood in the rain all the time, and our jackets aren’t good anymore. You even have to buy your own boots. There’s not a lot of support either. Your Sergeant’s got so much going on that they can’t really pay you attention.
Another thing is that everyone we pick up now complains about officers. If a complaint is made against you and it goes to a misconduct case, you can be waiting for a year or more.
Pay and benefits
The pay’s never worried me. It takes about 10 years to get up to top whack and I was paid more when I started than I was as a Roofer. There’s also a very good pension which I’ve paid into as well.
My wages are about £43,000 a year which is a good income, but we’ve had years of no pay increases. We can’t strike, so we just have to get on with it, but I’ve got no mortgage and no money worries.
I've never really wanted to be a Sergeant or Inspector or anything else. I was quite happy just dealing with crime. If you reach the rank of Sergeant, you're only taking home about £150 more a month. They’ve got to be there before I get to work and be there after I leave. I don't really need that hassle. Inspectors don't get overtime, just a wage, and it's not a fantastic wage. I could have progressed, but I didn't particularly want to. You’ve always got to have foot soldiers, not everyone can get up the ranks. You’re always getting trained, there is the opportunity to progress, but I think it’s more the people you know, rather than the ability you've got.
Relationships at work
My job has definitely affected me and my relationships. I’ve seen things but I can't talk about them. You're always watching, always looking at people and someone sort of talks to you and you think ‘What are you after?’. It makes you very tired and you can get angry about something that’s not worth flipping out over.
I’m signed off now because of stress; I just couldn’t cope with what was going on. I’m not ready to go back to work so I’ll probably just stay off for the few months I’ve got left, before I retire.
It's just not a good job anymore. People come into the role and the first thing they want to do is get off shift, so they’re not used as cannon fodder.
I used to be proud of this job. I loved the fact that we could fight crime. My family was proud. It was a good job. But it’s changed so much. It’s easy to solve crime, there’s so much evidence these days, but the job’s got mired down in things that don’t matter. It’s not a job I want to do or something I think is worthwhile anymore.
Thinking points for people managers
- Recognising that the role of a Police Officer is different from other jobs is important. From the moment they embark on their career with the police service, employees should understand the overriding commitment they are entering into.
- Ensure that police officers remain engaged, motivated and valued for the role they do and the commitment they give to the service. This could be both formally and informally within teams and operational units.
- One-to-ones and performance reviews should be carried out on a regular basis and include conversations about motivation and career development, giving individuals the opportunity to feedback and raise any concerns.
- Consider whether there is a case for looking at job design and how tasks are allocated to teams and individuals.
- Keeping training up to date is essential, so that individuals have the skills they need to carry out their roles and responsibilities to the best of their ability.
- Consider undertaking a staff satisfaction/employee engagement survey, focusing on what actions could be taken to enhance job satisfaction.
Read the CIPD’s November 2023 submission to His Majesty’s Treasury