Police officers in Sussex are ‘exhausted’ and missing out on time with their families because they are owed a staggering four years of time off.
But the 40,538 hours of overtime owed to our officers has been described as an ‘occupational hazard’ because of dwindling police numbers.
The stark figures were revealed following a Freedom of Information request submitted to Sussex Police by retired senior officer Kevin Moore, who is worried about officers’ welfare.
Simon Steele, secretary of the Sussex Police Federation, commented on the figures.
He said: “It has sadly become an occupational hazard that time and time again officers are having to put their personal lives on hold to cope with the demands being placed on them.
“This means they are unable to spend valued time with their families and loved ones and unable to recharge their already exhausted bodies.”
I am confident the public and our teams will feel a differenceDeputy Chief Constable Bernie O’Reilly, Sussex Police
‘We simply do not have a sufficient number of police officers’
In addition to the overtime hours, officers have 11,045 rest days currently outstanding. These are days off that were cancelled so that additional officers could be on hand for things like extra security at big events.
Simon added: “We simply do not have a sufficient number of police officers to cope with the excessive demands that are being placed on them.
“What the public don’t understand is that the officers simply have no choice but to work when days off are cancelled.”
‘I am not allowed to take it off’
Former Detective Chief Superintendent Kevin Moore argued that many officers find it ‘practically impossible’ to take lieu hours back.
Kevin, who was head of Eastbourne’s CID said: “The ability to take that time off becomes practically impossible.
“You end up with this huge backlog of rest days and time off owing.
“You have got serving officers saying ‘I am not allowed to take it off’.”
Paying it off would cost Sussex Police £710,016
When an officer works overtime they are given the choice to have extra pay or take the time back as lieu, so it has always been a balancing act for police commanders, Kevin argues.
Kevin, who was also district commander at Brighton and Hove for a time, said: “When I was in charge if I wanted to line the streets with extra police officers I would have to balance budgets at the end of the year.
“By skill and the efforts of my finance manager we were able to always stay within budget.
“It is becoming more and more difficult for people to do that now because there is less money available.”
According to the Police Federation, the average officer eligible for overtime earns £36,547 a year.
Using that as a guide, it would cost £710,016 for Sussex Police to pay off all the overtime lieu hours owed to officers.
Sussex Police respond to the figures
Deputy Chief Constable Bernie O’Reilly said: “Looking after the well being of our officers and staff is critical so, in turn, they can protect the public.
“The figures are an indication of the commitment and selflessness of our people but also clearly raise a concern about making sure we get the balance right.”
“The time in lieu highlighted has been accrued over many years; it is monitored by managers who work with teams to ensure their welfare.
“Soon we will be welcoming more people into Sussex Police with an additional 200 officers working with us by 2022.
“I am confident this will reduce the need to cancel rest days in the future and the public and our teams will feel a difference as we spend the increase in council tax in areas we are the most stretched.”
However Simon from the Police Federation thinks the problem will only get worse.
He said: “It is even more worrying that these figures are likely to continue rising as there just isn’t the capacity that would allow officers to take the time off that is owed to them.
“The Federation warned the Government that the cuts to policing had gone too far and that there would be consequences.
“Sadly those consequences are now coming to the fore and it is the morale and health and wellbeing of police officers that is sadly being affected. Many are at breaking point and it can’t be allowed to continue.”