By Local Democracy Reporter
THERE are not enough cops in Essex to do the job of protecting the public and catching criminals, according to the police officers themselves.
New figures revealed 85 per cent of police officers who responded to a demand and welfare survey from the Police Federation believe they do not have enough colleagues to do the job properly.
The survey found officer shortages, stress and mental health problems and grievances over pay are just some of the problems plaguing Essex Police.
A total of 79 per cent claimed to have experienced feelings of stress, low mood, anxiety, or other difficulties, although 71 per cent said the force encourages staff to talk openly about mental health – compared to 45 per cent nationally.
Steve Taylor, chairman of the Essex Police federation, said: “Policing can be a very stressful role dealing with at times challenging and volatile individuals.
“Our ability to reduce this stress is limited but what we can control more are environmental stressors such as working environment – when was the last time the office had a lick of paint? When was the last time somebody took your picture or complained about you simply eating your lunch in public?
“What about the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) taking over three years to investigate you? What about somebody thinking you getting punched in the face is ‘just part of the job’? The wider community can help reduce some of these stressors.
“I think the survey shows we are well above the national average when it comes to Mental Health being taken seriously, and this is to the forces credit. Mental Health is not a ‘dirty word’ in Essex Police, and while more can always be done to educate and encourage Mental Health out of the shadows and into the light, Essex Police appear prepared to work towards that goal.”
The survey was carried out over a six-week period between August and September last year and received 378 responses from Essex Police.
It comes shortly after the Local Democracy Reporting Service revealed that officers are owed almost 10,000 hours of rest days – the equivalent of three days per officer.
Limited police numbers have not only impacted mental health but also resulted in 66 per cent of officers having to respond to crimes on their own, rather than with a partner, “often or always” which raises the risk.
Mr Taylor, continued: “We don’t need a survey to tell us we are more at risk when working alone verses working with a colleague.
“While Essex Police at the local level takes steps to both risk assess what incidents officers are being sent to against type of unit who can deal, the unpredictable nature of our work adds an ever present ‘unknown’.
“While we continue to try and do more with less, demand dictates we are working alone more often and so facing dangers, known and unknown, more frequently.”
A second survey that focused on morale was also undertaken by the Police Federation and found there are widespread grievances over pay.
This survey received 661 responses and 90 per cent said they do not feel that they are paid fairly for their job – ranking Essex as the sixth most dissatisfied out of 43 forces nationally.
Pay and benefits was also one of the leading reasons given for poor morale on the force, which 87 per cent said was “low”. However, the largest reason given for issues with morale was how the police as a whole are treated.
Over the past 10 years there has been a 15 per cent fall in officer numbers across the UK from a high of 142,056 in 2009 to 121,010 in March 2018. In Essex numbers have fallen from around 3,400 to today’s number of 2,818.
Last month Essex’s police and crime commissioner, Roger Hirst, announced he would raise the police’s slice of council tax by £24 in an effort to recruit 215 new officers.
In 2018 it was raised by £12, which has provided 150 new frontline officers who are in the process of joining teams across the county.
Mr Taylor added: “Nine years of austerity is not going to be undone quickly as crime rises and fewer officers have to do more with less, but we welcome local improvements in funding as steps in the right direction.”
Richard Leicester, director of human resources at Kent Police and Essex Police, said: “Listening to and learning from our officers and staff members is a crucial part of improving how the force works and, although these issues are not unique to Essex Police, we continue to work with the Police Federation, Unison, the Staff Support Association and the Police Superintendents’ Association to ensure that our force continues to be a pleasant and supportive environment in which our officers can learn and work.
“It’s no secret that policing can be a challenging, and sometimes dangerous, job, where we expect officers to put themselves in sometimes threatening situations in order to protect and serve the public across our county.
“The dedication, bravery and skills held by our officers is a testament to them, and their hard work continues to protect victims of crime and bring people to justice every day.
“The jobs they attend are becoming increasingly complex and, sadly, the demand for our service continues to increase.
“These factors mean that the health, well-being and morale of our officers and staff is of paramount concern.
“Our ‘Feel Well, Live Well’ programme offers courses for officers and staff to enhance their knowledge and practice of self-care. This can help with their personal resilience during a difficult day at work and additional support is available through Trauma Risk Management, with practitioners able to help individuals in the aftermath of challenging incidents.
“Officers suffering with physical ailments can be referred to our Occupational Health department and assessed appropriately. We make ourselves available to officers who we feel may be struggling with their physical or mental health, and they know that we are always here for them, regardless of the issues they may be facing.”