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Nine out of ten detectives who had taken sick leave due to their mental health and wellbeing says problems caused or exacerbated by work.

PFNDF Secretary Karen Stephens

PFNDF Secretary Karen Stephens

The morale of detectives across the UK is at an all-time low, the Secretary of the Police Federation’s National Detectives’ Forum has told Police Oracle.

Karen Stephens discussed the multitude of issues facing detectives arising from the broader issue of officer morale.

Force-level reports on the state of detective policing in England and Wales make for grim reading.

These have been released by the Fed and follow on from the headline findings of PFEW’s national survey released last month showing workload, fatigue and stress all on the rise.

Mrs Stephens warned police leaders and the government must take action to rescue this critical role in policing which is in crisis.

She said: "In October we released the national report which was quite shocking but not surprising unfortunately

"We have said all along with the all of the cuts and everything else that police officers are going to suffer and, while the government might not care about that, it is the public who will ultimately suffer.

"In this survey we asked about detectives and the service they give to the public - 27 per cent said they feel they give the public the service they deserve. That is police officers talking about the service being provided. Detectives are simply not being afforded the time to do their jobs. Morale is at an all time low.”

Nationally, over three quarters (76 per cent) of those surveyed said their workload had increased in the last year and the same proportion admitted to workloads being too high over the last 12 months. As illustrated above by Mrs Stephens 73 per cent of officers felt they were not able to provide the service victims needed most or all of the time.

Meanwhile, a staggering nine out of ten of respondents who had taken sickness absence due to their mental health and wellbeing said that the difficulties they experienced were caused, or exacerbated, by work.

"Everything is contributing to this but in particular high workloads and unfortunately people going off sick with stress - that is what happens when people are put under this kind of pressure. We are not blaming those people who are off sick, but those people who are left behind - their workloads increase again and get even higher,” Mrs Stephens added.

"They get more and more personal responsibility and get put under further pressure.

"As a detective, no matter what department you are in, you have your workload and you are responsible for everything. For example, if you are in safe-guarding you have got vulnerable adults, you have got children, you've got CSE, FGM and you go home and you genuinely think 'I've left that old person in that care home, are they going to be there tomorrow?' There is a child in a certain house and you are thinking 'how safe are they?'

"You take it all home. I did four years in a vulnerable persons unit and it was one of the most stressful jobs ever. It was away from mainstream CID where you were up to your eyeballs with everything, but in this role you are working with other agencies, constantly working with social services, doctors, CQC. You have care homes where people are being abused and the level of service they receive is awful.  

"Detectives get more and more involved in the case and it becomes so much harder to deal with it."

Mrs Stephens says the increase in workload for detectives since 2010 has been obvious.

She added: "As things started getting tighter and tighter financially, people were leaving and they simply were not getting replaced. That adds to the stress and the pressure.

"Then forces began introducing what we called assistant investigators in Hertfordshire, other places called them police staff investigators.

"Some were retired officers who would stay late and generally do whatever was asked. The others, the new assistant investigators would have a break, 45 minutes for lunch, come in on time, leave on time. As a detective you are sitting there thinking 'okay it's 10pm, I'll go and get this statement', where some of the assistant investigators are working their hours and leaving.

"It wasn't their fault, but it is not a good working place environment where that is happening. It leads to resentment and that has been down to the cuts and detectives being replaced with these roles.

"Slowly the service has been eroded. We are not even sure how many detectives there are in the country which shows what a poor relation the role of the detective is. We think it is somewhere between 16,000 and 18,000.

"Nearly 8,000 took part in this survey so we have a real understanding of the way detectives are feeling right now. Some were even apologetic for being too honest but we need to know what people are thinking. People are dead on their feet out there and it is more so than it was two years ago.”

Mrs Stephens says it is important to state the entire service is suffering from years of austerity and budget cuts but, she says, it is far more difficult for detectives to get away from the workload and the consequences of that can have major implications on the officer’s mental health. 

She said: "I did ten years in uniform - police officers all see certain things that can have an impact on your mental health. But in uniform you see it and pass it over. In CID you see it, you get it handed over to you, and then you take it with you right through the court case and you remember the victims, you remember their families and they remember you.

"The cases pile up and one by one they can a major impact on a detective’s mental well-being – particularly when they are spinning as many plates as they are at the same time. On the back of that, you understand that if you drop one plate, make one small mistake because of the pressure you are under, the IPCC will be all over you.

"That is where I would like to see chiefs support their officer’s more. For them to stand up at say: ‘We’ve contributed to this, we have put officer’s under this pressure and now we should support them’.

“The facts speak for themselves. These results clearly show that detectives are overwhelmed with increased pressures brought on by a lack of resources. Morale is low, people are exhausted and there is little sign of improvements to come if things stay the way they are.

“Being a detective was always a sought after, desirable role. However, this survey shows things have changed and not for the better. The single aim of every officer, detectives included, is to protect and help others. But what these results show is that despite their best efforts, the demands of the role do not allow them to do this.”

In Hertfordshire Constabulary, Mrs Stephens’ own force, 62 per cent of respondents said service cuts have had a major impact on their morale - higher than the national average, where 56 per cent of detectives said that service cuts have had a major impact on their morale.

In addition, 57 per cent of respondents in Hertfordshire said that service cuts have substantially increased their overall workloads, compared to the national figure of 62 per cent.

Mrs Stephens said these results evidence serious shortcomings that must be addressed. The Fed has called on chief officers, the College of Policing and government need to "sit up and listen". 

She added: "They have already been told by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS) there is a ‘crisis in detectives’ and now people doing the job are telling them in their thousands. If we continue to fail the men and women who work in these roles then we ultimately fail the victims we aim to protect."

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