Thin Blue Line Stretched by STRESS

Thin blue line stretched by stress
By Andy Dickenson

Police took almost 20,000 days off sick with stress over the last three years, costing the tax payer at least £1.2 million.

Rank-and-file officers said today they were "working themselves into the ground" then having to spend months off due to the strain.
Sussex officers took 18,755 days off between January 2004 to December 2006, due to stress, depression and mental fatigue - the equivalent to one officer being off work for 51 years.

Based on the salary of a constable the force would have paid at least £1,181,400 to officers on sick leave - enough to pay the wages of about 20 extra PCs each year.

However, the real figure is likely to be much higher with staff being brought in to cover the absentees and National Insurance costs take into account.
Brian Stockham, chairman of the Sussex Police Federation, said the "wear and tear" of policing was a big issue.

But critics said the time taken off for stress was alarming given that forces are spending thousands on psychologists, psychiatrists and counsellors.
Figures, released under freedom of information laws, show that 6,466 days were lost to stress, anxiety and depression, in the last financial year alone.
This is the equivalent of every one of the force's 3,178 officers taking off two days a year.

Mr Stockham said some officers were so committed to cutting down crime in the region, their own welfare was being ignored.
He said: "You can understand these figures have a great relevance to the officers out there. There are a lot of officers who are doing themselves no good by working themselves into the ground".

"The nature of police work is that you are involved in confrontation regularly and it has a wearing effect." Improvements in detection rates and higher numbers of criminals being brought before the courts were all adding to the strain, he said.

Mr Stockham said: "Achieving those improved results costs in terms of human endeavour." Some of our people become so committed to the task that their own health and well-being are being ignored." Because of financial constraints we've not been able to support their welfare and that has a detrimental effect on moral.

"These officers are basically taking a lot of wear and tear."
Last year the Sussex force completed a stress poll among officers. All of the 62 per cent of staff who responded agreed their jobs were stressful.
Since the report extra resources are being pumped into stress awareness training and reviewing bullying and harassment policies.

Christine Melsom, founder of the anti-council tax campaign Is It Fair said: "Of course, the council tax payer is having to pay for all these things. I think the police should tighten their belts up a bit and cut down on all these absentees.
"I've long had the theory that if police officers are not well enough to go out on the beat surely they are able to do some very valuable work in the office, helping to cut back on the amount of civilians required."

Over the last financial year £45,000 was spent on the force's councelling scheme, open to all Sussex Police personnel and their partners.
But more needs to be done to stop bobbies pushing themselves too far, Mr Stockham said. He cited the case of one local officer who was being treated for stress and told by his psychiatrist he had "the worst case of professional burn-out he had ever seen".

Mr Stockham said: "Our officers may be delivering greater performances but we're suffering as a result. "But if you can't do confrontation you shouldn't be a copper. "I don't think the Sussex force is more stressed than any other in the police service. It goes hand in hand with the job."

A spokeswoman for Sussex Police said: "There are a variety of reasons why Sussex police officers take stress-related sickness absence, both work-related and personal.

"Through its Health, Safety and Welfare Unit, the force has specialist health and well being services available to its police officers to support them and their families in both aspects of stress-related sickness absence and also more pro-actively, to help them remain at work."


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