Police sending staff last-minute texts to come in for shift cover as overtime soars
PUBLISHED: 06:42 08 June 2018 | UPDATED: 15:05 08 June 2018
Archant Norfolk Photographic Â© 2011
Police are resorting to last-minute text messages to bring in officers because of staff shortages.
In a further sign of the pressure Norfolk Constabulary is under, it spent almost £900,000 more than budgeted on overtime last year, pushing it over its £130m pay budget. That was close to double the overspend on overtime from the year before.
Officer numbers in Norfolk are one of the lowest of any force in the country per head of population.
But chief constable Simon Bailey said numbers would soon be in “the best place we have been in for a long time”. The force said it “continuously reviewed” resources.
In the last two weeks of March the Constabulary sent out text messages for PCs and sergeants to come in across Norfolk.
South Norfolk needed the most with six text messages sent regarding PC cover.
Then from April 1 to 24, ten texts were sent in Great Yarmouth for a PC. Another five were sent in Norwich, six in Broadland and five in Breckland.
Sergeant cover was needed in Norwich, King’s Lynn, Great Yarmouth, North Norfolk and Broadland.
One message from late March called for a police support unit (PSU) – made up of PCs and a sergeant - for two night shifts.
“Urgent Full PSU required 2000-0500 tonight and tomorrow night,” the message sent at 9am read.
Less than two-and-a-half hours later a second message read: “PSU for tonight and tomorrow 2000-0500 for deployment is now an order in.”
“Texts are being sent out on a daily basis,” said one source.
The messages offering overtime shifts are also sent to say shifts have been covered, police said in response to our Freedom of Information request.
Andy Symonds, chairman of the Norfolk Police Federation, said the shifts were normally covered and rarely escalated to an order.
But he added: “We just have not got enough numbers. They are relying on officers doing a lot of overtime.
“If it was not for student officers picking up overtime we really would be in a muddle.”
He said leave embargoes were sometimes used and rest days frequently cancelled to cover staffing shortages.
“It is a nightmare mix for officers with more demand and more complicated cases,” he said.
“It is important for leaders in the police and Government to be truthful with the public about what they can expect from us going forward.”
Norwich South Labour MP Clive Lewis said: “Almost daily, we hear another story about how our city’s emergency services are struggling to cope.
“More and more local emergency services bosses are starting to say it how it how it is - they cannot continually do more with less at the same time as the heart is being ripped out of preventative and community services.”
Norfolk has 1,500 officers in total, down from 1580 in 2014 and 1546 in 2012.
At 0.26 officers per 1,000 people it has one of the lowest amount in the country for its population size. Suffolk has 0.22 while the highest is Cumbria with 1.21 per 1,000 people.
But chief Constable Simon Bailey told a public meeting in May that by the end of this summer office numbers would be more than 1,500 “out on the streets” which was “the best place we have been in for a long time”.
Assistant Chief Constable Paul Sanford said: “Police work is challenging and demanding, often requiring the immediate deployment of resources to deal with a range of emergency situations. It is often more efficient to deal with peaks in demand through overtime spending than it is to increase routine resourcing levels.”
Under a staffing restructure, all 150 PCSOs have been laid off and are being replaced with 81 officers and 16 staff.
ACC Sanford said that overtime costs fluctuated throughout the year depending on demand and increased last year because of the East Harling murder and the rise in the terror threat level.
“We fully appreciate the dedication and commitment of our officers and staff when carrying out their duties, especially at a time when crime is becoming more complex and policing budgets reduced,” he said.
“Senior officers are acutely aware of how hard officers and staff are working and provide appropriate welfare and support.”
Suffolk police refused our request for figures on text messages saying it would take too long to gather the information.