Mark Lindsay: Long hours take toll on workforce and on standard of policing
Overtime in an under-resourced police service is a necessity and must always be at the disposal of an organisation that has to react to changing challenges or spikes in demand.
Of necessity, hundreds of officers undertake overtime duty simply because the PSNI is under-strength. Surges in police activity have to have resources and, inevitably, that will incur overtime or rest-day working.
Without overtime, the service provided to the public by the PSNI would fall short of what's required. Operational failings would not easily be forgiven.
The PSNI is currently 800 below the peacetime figure envisaged by Patten and, as recent events demonstrated, Northern Ireland is far from a settled, peaceful society.
On that basis the current 6,700 is wholly inadequate. That is the harsh reality against which officers have to operate, and it is something that is crying out for an official acknowledgement and solution.
Under the police regulations, rest days may be worked by using overtime or reallocating rest days to another date, both of which have financial implications. The welfare of officers must be a consideration when interfering with valuable time off.
Apart altogether from the toll on the officer repeatedly called to work overtime or a rest day, there is a knock-on negative effect on family life. Many fail to get like-for-like days off - a Wednesday hasn't the same value as a Saturday.
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Quality time with children is lost, and this leads to family pressures.
The pressures are no less severe when leave is cancelled.
Doing more with less has always been the mantra, but there are consequences for placing inordinate pressures on the workforce.
The PSNI is creaking under the pressure. It is a situation that I believe will continue for the foreseeable future, at least until there is a realistic recruitment drive to bring numbers up to the required peacetime minimum.
Ultimately, this is all down to resources and what the Government allocates the PSNI.
Ministers must be made to realise that the organisation is crying out for badly needed additional financial resources.
If it is denied this, then the rate of burn-out and workplace and family pressures will increase. It is as simple as that.
Overtime, therefore, is a symptom of a wider ailment. It masks structural weaknesses and, if not recognised as a priority, they will impact negatively on service levels the public have a right to expect.
We cannot go on pretending we can juggle sometimes competing demands without admitting the consequences.
There is a structural weakness and, without the goodwill, generosity and willingness of our men and women to step up to the plate, the situation would be a lot worse.
- Mark Lindsay is chair of the Police Federation for Northern Ireland