Belfast Telegraph

Compulsory fitness tests for police forces a weighty issue

By Tom Moseley

One of the first things Margaret Thatcher did after taking office was award the police a huge pay rise, recognising the importance of their support.

Fast-forward to 2012 and, in spite of a year of phone-hacking revelations and kettling of protesters, the message still rings true.

It's something that will be on ministers' minds after they unveil the latest recommendations from lawyer Tom Winsor into the future of the Met.

Compulsory fitness tests for officers led to 'fat blue line' headlines and the revelation that the average Met policeman is more overweight than a typical man.

Winsor suggested forces adopt the tests carried out in Northern Ireland, where officers already have to take a fitness test after leaving training college.

Of 4,500 new recruits since 2001, 27 - of whom 26 were women - have quit, or been sacked, after failing the test, he said, adding that the Chief Constable of Northern Ireland is considering bringing in fitness tests for serving officers.

Crucially, Winsor has recommended changes to pay and allowances, saving £150m a year.

And officers in Northern Ireland are watching nervously as this battle plays out. While it won't apply directly, because the PSNI comes under the remit of the Department of Justice, there are fears that changes to officer pay could filter across the Irish Sea.

Scottish officers have been spared the shake-up in return for accepting force mergers,and police unions in Northern Ireland fear that, if their English and Welsh counterparts fail to water down the proposals, their negotiating ability could be eroded.

Winsor also makes an interesting contribution to the ferocious debate on the correlation between police numbers and crime levels, which is playing out in the rest of the UK with a 20% cut in frontline officers. Ministers say that reduced numbers need not lead to a rise in crime. This is a tough case to argue, because people want to see officers on the streets.

But Winsor cites the examples of Northern Ireland and New York as places where crime fell alongside officer numbers, suggesting there is no simple link between the two. One reform that will not find its way to the PSNI is the election of police and crime commissioners, which would likely be a step too far in Northern Ireland.

The Government believes a figurehead to run each force will make them more accountable. But the hoped-for high-profile candidates have been slow in coming forward, leaving sitting councillors jostling for a role that offers them a 10-fold pay rise.

That's enough to make even an MLA blush.


From Belfast Telegraph