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Action needed to end 104% rise in resignations, experts warn

Better leadership and support is needed to stem the tide of officers quitting, chiefs have been told.
Published - 24/02/2021 By - Chris Smith

The Police Foundation’s annual conference was told there has been a 104% increase in officers quitting the service since 2015.

Leavers told a study by the University of Portsmouth that their reasons included a lack leadership, not feeling valued, lack of career direction and lack of autonomy.

Dr Sarah Charman, a Reader in Criminology at the university, revealed there have been 2,363 resignations in the year to March 2020. That compares to 1,158 in 2011/12 and the number has increased every year since.

Dr Charman interviewed 46 officers who had voluntarily resigned and they revealed caring responsibilities, lack of promotion, bullying and mental health had been factors in their decision to quit.

“Leadership and management was a recurring theme,” she told the online event. “This was pinpointed at mid-management inspector level.”

Officers experienced a gradual wearing away of resistance to leaving due to "a culture of antagonism."

“It was this sense of injustice which proved to be the final straw,” she added.

But they remained loyal to the job; the research also found a strong commitment to the organisation and colleagues despite leaving.

Instead, internal organisational issues were cited as the problem – and these had increased during the austerity era as more officers were forced to work alone.

This had reduced their sense of being part of a team or being able to make a difference.

“Those people that left hadn’t been able to fulfil many of their expectations with the job,” Dr Charman said.

Where officers started and who tutored them made a critical difference. The people who stared in neighbourhood teams were able to learn and develop.

People placed in response and patrol units were forced to copy their mentors because they had been thrown in at the deep end and were more likely to leave as a result.

Martin Hewitt, Chair of the National Police Chiefs’ Council, said retention was a critical issue not only for service stability but also to achieve objectives like diversity.

Forces had to strike a balance not to oversell the job to new recruits.

“It’s got to be realistic; there are real challenges to doing that. One of the things that I get from people is that they wanted to come in and make a difference and they got frustrated,” he said.

“It is a bloody difficult job and there are things that are going to be bad. It is going to be hard on your work-life balance.”

“There is only so much you can say to people. At times it is difficult and unpleasant. Not everyone is going to end up riding a horse. Not everyone is going to end up as a detective,” he added.

He also warned the new generation of officers are unlikely to see policing as a long-term job.

“Some people will be starting from the position of ‘I’ll do it for five years’. We as a service have got to shift our mindsets,” he said. “You can’t see someone who does six years, works really hard and is really committed and leaves… you can’t see that as a failure.”

But he also defended those who make a long-term commitment to the job as their experience is needed.

The conference had already heard that within three years, a third of officers will have less than three years’ experience.

Mr Hewitt said: “We do need to retain some of that essence of what policing is. We do need to retain that whatever we do going forward.”

The Uplift recruitment of 20,000 officers is also an opportunity to update approaches to the job, the event heard.

David Spencer, co-founder of Police Now which runs the national graduate detective programme, said there were “opportunities of newness” to create better understandings of procedural justice and preventative work.

The Service has seen an inc

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