Frontline officers with Police Scotland are “suffering from chronic stress associated with their circumstances at work”, a report has warned.
Experts from Carleton University in Ottawa spoke out as a survey found more than a third of police officers have reported for duty when “mentally unwell” – with officers on average turning up for work in this condition a “staggering” 19 times over the last year.
The research was included in a new report which warned that “many front-facing Police Scotland officers are either overworked or at a high risk of experiencing overwork in the very near future”.
The report, details of which were revealed in the new justice and social affairs magazine 1919, went on to state that “Police Scotland would find it difficult to fulfil their mandate if officers did not come into work when they are supposed to have time off”.
A total of 2286 officers – mostly constables and sergeants – took part in a survey commissioned by the Scottish Police Federation (SPF) and the Association of Scottish Police Superintendents (ASPS), looking at welfare and wellbeing during the coronavirus pandemic.
Almost two out of five (38%) officers reported suffering from high levels of stress, with 57.6% experiencing moderate levels, according to the research.
Meanwhile 29% of officers were said to be experiencing moderate levels of “burnout” – a condition said to arise when chronic stress is not dealt with – with a further 16% suffering high levels of this.
Report authors Sean Campeau, Linda Duxbury and Neil Cruickshank from Carleton University in Ottawa said the data, along with previous survey work with Police Scotland, “leads us to conclude that many frontline officers at Police Scotland are suffering from chronic stress associated with their circumstances at work”.
The research, carried out in October and November 2020, found that in the previous six months more than half (53.5%) of officers surveyed reported going to work when physically unwell.
The report added this was “not a rare occurrence with those officers who report to work when physically sick”, saying they did so on average eight times over the last six months.
It continued: “Second (and in some ways more problematically) we note that just over a third (34.9%) of the officers in our sample said they went to work when they were mentally unwell.
“This, along with the fact that the subgroup of officers who reported to work when mentally or emotionally fatigued did so on average a staggering 19 times over the course of the last year, is consistent with our data on the wellbeing of Police Scotland officers particularly the data on burnout at work.”
The report found Police Scotland officers are on duty for an average of 43.9 hours a week – with approximately half of staff surveyed saying they rarely, if ever, had time for an uninterrupted break while at work.
Approximately half the officers who took part had a rest day cancelled or disrupted multiple times in the six months prior to the survey being completed, with one in four reporting being called into work when they were on a rest day or annual leave.
The report’s authors said: “Officers who are suffering from chronic stress would benefit from time away from work.
“Unfortunately, the data from this study suggests that the culture within Police Scotland and the officers’ own work ethic means this is unlikely to happen as officers who are experiencing higher levels of stress or burnout within Police Scotland are either not encouraged and/or unable to take time off work to recover from the demands they face on the job.”
Deputy Chief Constable Fiona Taylor told 1919: “Policing is a demanding and extremely rewarding vocation.
“The safety and wellbeing of officers and staff and their families is a priority for Police Scotland and we have a range of mechanisms to support our people, including an employee assistance programme, a wellbeing champion network, post-trauma assessment and mental fitness training.”
She praised the “professionalism and dedication of officers and staff” during the coronavirus pandemic.
DCC Taylor also told how Police Scotland works “closely with all staff associations and unions, including the Scottish Police Federation, to constantly improve how we enable and empower officers and staff to serve the public”.
But SPF chairman David Hamilton told 1919: “These latest findings once again spotlight the alarmingly poor mental and physical health of Scotland’s police officers.
“It is disappointing but not surprising that many of these issues can be tracked to organisational culture and a lack of resources.
“Ever-increasing demand, the impact of policing Covid and lack of support from Government is frankly bringing the front line to its knees.”