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'Police leadership is about welfare of officers', chiefs are told

Officer welfare is key to preventing officers from burning out
Published - 03/11/2017 By - JJ Hutber- Police Oracle

Police leadership has become a ‘pastoral’ role as a result of immense funding pressures, chief constables and commissioners were told at a joint conference.

Two response officers and Police Bravery Awards winners were asked to tell some of the most senior police figures in the country what makes good leadership, at a joint summit of the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) and Association of Police and Crime Commissioners (APCC) last week.

Northumbria Police Sergeant Elliott Richardson, who won a Police Bravery Award for tackling a heavily armed mental health patient as he fired a gun in a pub, said the qualities of good leadership have changed dramatically over the course of his 20 years service.

His patch has become ‘unrecognisable’ since austerity measures have taken affect, he said. Now there is an average of 13 response officers on shift compared to 24 ten years ago. Much of his team’s time is taken up by complex domestic abuse, child sexual exploitation and mental health cases.

“The big thing nowadays is about welfare, the welfare of officers' morale,” he said. “It’s more like a pastoral role.

“My overall driver when I come to work, the same with my inspector now, is the welfare of the team. On my team we’ve got three people off with anxiety and depression. Three out of nine and that’s just my team alone. Out of 15 students, five have already resigned because of work struggles.”

He added he’s seeing ‘staff burning out all the time’.

“I can tell you exactly who’s got mental health problems, whose got children, who has issues with childcare, who doesn’t because I need to know them inside out. A good leader - just like preventative measures with crime - tries to prevent people going off because if you don’t that’s when we get into a trap of people getting sick and depression.

“It creates a problem for the rest of the team.”

He read out an extract from the resignation letter of a colleague who had resigned after nine years service because work pressures left her feeling suicidal and ‘there was no support, no back up, too high expectations.’

Sgt Richardson told the floor: “Please just listen to your officers.

“This is the first time in 20 years anyone’s said come down, sit on a stage in front of chiefs and people of importance and say 'just listen'.”  

PC James Neilson from West Midlands, who won a Police Bravery award this year for confronting a masked gunman as he tried to rob a Birmingham shop, described the struggles of policing Birmingham city centre with a 30 per cent reduction in staff levels.

“We’re literally beasted - hammered from job to job. A lot of are calls can be dealt with by third party but we’re always the first port of call.

“Knife crime, gun crime, gang activity has increased and domestic abuse, burglaries, car jacking- they’ve gone through the roof.  On the back of that we have spice.  It is so cheap and easy to get hold of, it’s an epidemic in city centre so much so we nickname ambulances mambulances. 

"It is so cheap to make and easy for the homeless to get hold of. We’re drowning in it. And we’ve still got to pick up the disorders, the robberies and retail theft as well.”

When asked what he wanted to see from chief constables he responded: “No one ever joins the police service to be a leader, they join to be an officer and I think it’s really important to remember that.

“I think it’s important for officers on the street to see officers of high rank on the streets with them doing the shifts on response, doing a shift on night time economy, doing a shift on disorders - getting involved. I think it’s important to go back to your roots.”  

Sgt Richardson said he had recently observed ‘the winds of change’ in senior police leadership.

“We get told about updating the victim. How about updating us?

“The wind of change is there from chiefs and senior members of staff. When something goes wrong at an incident what they want to know now is why did it go wrong and what can we learn for the future.

“Instead of people getting taken into an office with big sticks, we all sit down and think what can we all learn for the future.

“You can really see the difference. We can all blame but we don’t learn from blame, we learn from training.”

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