Proposal to get bobbies on the beat

NORFOLK'S rank-and-file police officers are to undergo their biggest shake-up in almost a decade with new working hours aimed at putting more bobbies on the beat at the busiest times.

NORFOLK'S rank-and-file police officers are to undergo their biggest shake-up in almost a decade with new working hours aimed at putting more bobbies on the beat at the busiest times.

More than 1,000 officers are to be balloted over the changes after chief constable Ian McPherson decided the existing four days on, four days off shift pattern was unworkable.

The new hours should mean police have fewer consecutive rest days - reducing the frustrations of victims struggling to contact investigating officers.

It should also mean there are more uniformed men and women available at peak times, for example to police hotspots on Friday and Saturday nights.

The Police Federation, which represents officers, has already expressed concern at the decision to scrap the existing 12-hour shifts, but chairman Malcolm Sneesby said there was now no option but to work with the chief to find a suitable replacement.

Mr McPherson said: “All our efforts in modernising the constabulary are focused on one key outcome - delivering excellent local policing services for the people of Norfolk.

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“We have to ensure the right people are in the right place at the right time. That is one of the key aspects of managing our workforce to deliver the very best service we can.”

Police rules mean that if Mr McPherson is to succeed in introducing the new mix of eight and 10-hour shifts, he must gain support from 80pc of Norfolk officers.

But if he fails to gain this mandate, he has the power to introduce a new eight-hour system which may be even less popular. He has said there is no way the force will keep its current system, which has been in place for seven years.

Chief Insp Keith Taggart, who has designed the new system, said it should reduce the amount of wasted time. At present, he claimed, large numbers of officers are on duty at times when there is very little crime.

Under the new systems, two thirds of officers will be on duty at the busiest times as opposed to roughly half now. At present, most officers have 191 rest days each year. This would be reduced to 122. It is also flexible, meaning it can be adapted according to the needs of a particular community.

Chief Insp Taggart said: “We have carried out an analysis of when we are busiest and the new shifts will focus on having more officers on duty at these times.

“There are many disadvantages to the existing system, not least the fact that we have too many officers on at quiet times. Also, when it comes to dealing with major incidents we have hit difficulties because we have large numbers on rest days and others coming to the end of their shifts, meaning we have a limited pool of officers to call upon in an emergency.

“We don't want to impose unnecessary hardship on officers but our starting point was not when do our staff want to work but when do the public need them to be working.”

However, Mr Sneesby said three previous chief constables - Ken Williams, Andy Hayman and Carole Howlett - had all reviewed the 12-hour system and not found anything wrong with it.

He said crime figures had consistently fallen since it was introduced and sickness levels had been good, until recently when additional pressures had been added.

“Whatever system comes in will have an impact on childcare arrangements, particularly for couples who both work for the force and have worked contrasting shifts,” he said.

“It will also make it difficult for those with second sources of employment. The force says this will make officers more committed to policing but, in the majority of cases, this has never been an issue. Policing is a vocation and most only have other jobs because they need them - they are still committed to their role as an officer.

“We have to accept there is going to be a change and find a way of making it work. Various factors not down to the force, such as government targets, have meant there aren't enough officers on the streets and we welcome anything that addresses that. We hope these changes will be beneficial.”

The ballot will be completed on July 2 and whatever system is decided upon will be introduced in April next year.