This blog was read out at the end of a presentation by Naomi Bennett from Kent Police at the Policing Under Stress conference last week. It is reflective and honest – it represents the researchers thoughts on a piece of real research, exploring issues that affect real people. Huge thanks to Naomi for allowing me to post this and for the brilliant presentation at Canterbury Christ Church University last week. Naomi is a Paul McKeever scholarship MSc student at CCCU.
Police Officer Turnover and Retention
As a civilian who has been in the police service for a number of years, I too have experienced first-hand many of the recent changes that have affected policing. It seems changes to pay and conditions, especially pensions have left many officers feeling let down by the government. Some have resigned and no doubt the thought of resigning has crossed many serving police officers minds. As a civilian employee, cuts to policing have also had an impact on me and my colleagues. A large proportion of savings made by forces has come from a reduction in the number of civilian staff.
I must confess when my civilian colleagues around me were being reduced in numbers, some taking redundancy after numerous years of service I found some police officers gripes hard to hear. Yes pay had been frozen, pensions had been changed and a fitness test was now mandatory. Perhaps you had been moved to a different role or a different location but ultimately you still had a job and a pay packet each month where so many of your civilian colleagues did not. So when the opportunity came up to study police turnover and retention under the Paul McKeever Scholarship I jumped at the chance to put myself in those officers’ shoes.
I have always had the upmost respect for police officers, the commitment and dedication of the officers with whom I have worked is second to none. No one seemed to work just for a pay cheque, it was deeper than that, officers really cared about the work they did and the communities they served. Being a police officer was part of who they were. Therefore exploring the reasons behind the increasing number of resignations is something that is close to my heart.
Over the last few months I have conducted a number of interviews with ex-police officers from across the country in an attempt to understand what caused their resignation from the police service. Spending time with these officers reminded me of one very important fundamental thing, police officers are people just like you and me. They have hopes, dreams and plans for the future, they have families, friends, children, social lives and hobbies, they are not machines they are husbands, wives, mothers and fathers. Not only do they have to find capacity to care about all these things in their personal life but also in their professional life too and care they do.
Many of the officers to whom I have spoken joined the police service with the intention to serve their community for 30 years and the pension that they would receive at the end would be a reward for the sacrifices they have made in that time. Many people in other forms of employment will have to work much longer than 30 years before we can receive a pension, however we all knew that when we started in the world of work. I know how I would feel if I had plans for my retirement and someone suddenly told me that I had to work an extra 10 years and that I would receive less money for working longer. Many of the officers to whom I spoke did have plans for their retirement, many had wanted to peruse a hobby such as writing or painting something that was purely for them after all those years of service. Having that carrot dangled before you and for it to be so suddenly taken away quite literally changes people lives, and their futures.
It was comforting that most officers to whom I spoke talked warmly about policing and the work that they did. I certainly heard the phrase ‘I loved my job’ many times over, the decision to leave cannot have been easy or quick adding further stress and uncertainly to an already difficult time for officers. The decisions that these officer took to leave goes much deeper than changes to conditions and pensions many have personal stories to tell but they are not always heard. Many felt they had no choice but to leave to ensure that they and their families have a happy and safe future too. The police service really needs to spend some time understanding why good, experienced officers are choosing to move on.
I think the point I am driving at is this, when governments and policing organisations make significant changes they are changing people’s lives. The police should indeed provide the best possible service at the lowest cost to the public however police officers are people too and it seems the impact on them as people has been all but forgotten. Officers who love serving the community who love their job are leaving, to me that tells a scary story. If the government and policing organisations don’t take care of the people who take care of us who is going be there when we need help?