Brian Paddick: Officers on restricted duties should be employed as civilians

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The Independent Online

It has always been an issue in the police service that those on "light duties" were taking the plum jobs, working 9-5 in a warm, dry office while their colleagues risked life, limb and pneumonia on the streets in all weathers. Yet the problem has become more acute in recent years.

When I joined the police in 1976, if you dialled 999 or went to a police station's front counter, you used to speak to a police officer. So when an officer under my command lost the use of his arm in a motorcycle accident, I was happy to use him in the control room where he could be as productive as the able-bodied police officer who would otherwise have taken his place.

Since then, members of civilian staff have increasingly replaced police officers in both operational and support roles. The number of "holes" that police officers on restricted duties can be put into has diminished as a result. With cheaper, civilian alternatives now available, it is no longer cost-effective to employ police officers in many of these positions. Police officers are paid a premium because they have powers and responsibilities beyond those of their non-police colleagues. Yet the premium is still paid, even if they are employed in a support role that does not require the exercise of those powers. This includes police officers on most kinds of restricted duties and full-time officials of the Police Federation.

Another issue has been a clampdown on ill-health retirements. It used to be a standing joke that you should develop a permanent injury or an incurable disease once you had 22.5 years of service. You could then claim an ill-health pension equivalent to having served 30 years, one that was index-linked immediately, unlike an ordinary pension that is not index-linked until the age of 55.

While designed to look after officers who were unable to work as a result of the stresses of the job, many took advantage of the system to leave early to pursue other careers while continuing to claim their ill-health pensions. As a result, the award of such pensions is now rare, causing many officers to stay on who previously would have retired early, even though they cannot perform the full range of duties.

Many police officers on "restricted duties" could and should be employed either as civilians, or outside the police service. They would not need an immediate, index-linked pension but at the moment there is no other way to pay them off.