Bonus payments to police for 'unpleasant duties' facing axe
High-level talks are to be held to consider ending extra payments given to PSNI officers and staff for carrying out particularly difficult duties.
The payments, known as the special bonus award scheme, are for duties including dealing with traumatised witnesses and handling dead bodies.
Almost £30,000 has been handed out in the last four years under the policy, the Belfast Telegraph has learned using the Freedom of Information Act.
The payments go up to £500 and are doled out twice a year – in June and December.
In total, £28,900 has been paid out in the past four years, with 2012 being the year that most payments were made.
In 2013, £14,750 was paid out, compared to £5,600 in 2010 and £4,050 in 2011.
So far this year £4,500 has been paid out.
Examples include four £250 payments in 2011 for an exhumation; another four £250 payments in the same year for "unpleasant nature of work"; one £500 payment made in 2012 was recorded as being for carrying out a "demanding investigation and family liaison", and two payments of £500 each were made, also in 2012, for the handling of a decomposed body.
Going further back, it is understood that payments were also made to officers who worked trying to recover victims of the 1998 Real IRA bombing of Omagh in which 29 people and two unborn babies were killed.
Similar payments are made to police officers in England and Wales.
The Daily Mail reported that Thames Valley Police provided payments of £50 for civilian staff who have to 'search/fingerprint dead body' and its guidance states: "Payment only for cases deemed to be particularly unpleasant, such as badly decomposed bodies."
But these payments in England and Wales are expected to be phased out under the Winsor Review.
The policy does not extend to Northern Ireland, but it is understood that the Department of Justice, PSNI and Police Federation are preparing to start discussions on pay and bonuses.
Local politicians have expressed concern at the payments.
DUP MP Jim Shannon said he felt it would be better to focus on providing good support systems for officers and staff who must deal with difficult situations.
"It's part of the job. I think it is wrong to provide remuneration, it is more important to ensure care and attention to those who need it, and access to suitable counselling."
SDLP MLA John Dallat said he thought the public would be very surprised to learn that officers got bonuses for dealing with unpleasant duties.
"My own belief is that police should not be given extra money for unpleasant duties," he said.
"The service by its very nature makes huge demands on police officers as individuals. These are the demands we expect from police officers and it's a surprise to find there are bonuses being paid."
A PSNI spokesman said: "The Police Service of Northern Ireland places considerable emphasis on rewarding and recognising efforts of police and police staff in the performance of their duties. Special bonuses are designed to be used to reward exceptional performance in demanding tasks or where good performance was achieved under adverse conditions. They are taxable and non-pensionable and are given only in exceptional circumstances. Strict criteria for the payment of bonuses must be met by each applicant including a nomination from a line manager and approval from a panel of HR personnel."