Monday, 2 August 2010

Behind the Headlines - Jersey Police Pay

It is clear that police officers should be suitably rewarded - but there must be sensible limits to the extent of the rewards available. As far as Jersey is concerned, this has been realised and articulated by Home Affairs Minister Ian Le Marquand, the politician with responsibility for policing policy. Speaking at a Scrutiny panel hearing, Senator Le Marquand stated unequivocally that the Island's force is overpaid and that the system of automatic increments based purely on time served is 'terrible'. By comparison with UK city centres, Jersey is a crime and public disorder backwater, but in spite of this we have managed to arrive at a point where we pay a police constable a starting salary of over £31,000. The corresponding rate in the UK is £22,680. But the starting salary is merely the initial problem. Without any promotion as such or additional responsibilities, a Jersey constable's pay will increase over a 12-year period by some 60 per cent, or £20,000, exclusive of new pay awards or overtime payments. (1)

The UK position in 2009 was as follows:

The starting salary of a PC in forces outside London last year was £22,105, rising to a maximum of £34,706 after 11 years' service. Those in the Metropolitan Police are given a 'London weighting' of about £8,000 and can earn a maximum of around £42,000. (2)

In fact, far from stating "unequivocally that the Island's force is overpaid", Senator Le Marquand's position was much more carefully set out, and the JEP seems to have oversimplified matters. I will return to that later as point (4), but there are also 3 other points considered by Senator Le Marquand which are worth expanding and commenting on.

There are some interesting and notable points made by Senator Ian Le Marquand and others in the Scrutiny meeting, not all of which were mentioned or expanded in detail in the JEP report.

1. Use Civilian Staff where possible

There has always been a complement of civilians within the States Police, as for instance, with managing the part of the department to do with Criminal Records, and this works out considerably cheaper than using trained police for what are, essentially, administrative functions like filing, sorting, cataloguing, preparing and abstracting relevant papers for prosecutions etc. This is nothing new, it has been in position for over twenty years, but the pressure on costs means that it is worth re-assessing to see if any other back office tasks could be moved from police to civilian staff. Civilian staff take the official secrets oath, and are therefore quite capable of processing confidential files. As Senator Le Marquand notes:

We were working on this already as a number of posts within the police force where one could replace officers who on average with packages cost £55,000 a year, with civilians who on average with pension packages and so on cost £35,000 a year.

Of course, in order to do this effectively, there needs to be some kind of detailed organisational chart (of the kind now available for the hospital) so that the positions and functions of police can be assessed in order to see which posts and tasks can be transferred. The alternative is an "ad hoc" method relying on officers within the organisation to decide which tasks can be delegated, and this not only imposes extra work on them (for assessing what they do), but also quite probably is giving a task to them for which they are not trained, as for instance, someone who is experiences in fields such as time and motion, where task breakdowns are required.

But it can be done - a report by a Canadian on policing in Canada noted that comparing Edmonton (Canada, pop 1 million) with Greater Manchester Police (pop 2.5 million) which have comparable problems of crime etc:

GMP employs 8,232 police officers in a total staff of 13,082, or one person for every 181 members of the public. My force employs about 1,400 officers and 500 civilians - one person for every 526 members of the public.(6).

It may be better to look further afield for slimline models of what can be done that just taking on UK models, which clearly may not be as efficient as elsewhere in their officer / civilian ratio. It would be interesting to know the ratio for every member of the public in Jersey.

2. Overtime and Numbers

A problem highlighted by Senator Le Marquand is what we might term the "market efficiency" of the force. The requirements for the active numeric strength of the police force varies over time, and this can be dealt with by taking on more police, or by paying overtime. As is well known, overtime decisions are more easily reversable than employment hiring decisions, and can be "used as a short-term employment reaction to cyclical change in the face of uncertainty over the length and potential extent of the perturbation." (4)

So if there is a fluctuation in the demand for more police, overtime can be used to fill the gap, on the basis that it will diminish in the future; if more police recruits had been taken on, there could be a slack period in which some police might be relatively idle. The ideal is to balance the numbers with the overtime so that overtime acts as a buffer - where numbers are consistently too small, the overtime bill becomes permanently too large. The problem that Senator Le Marquand is facing is that the "exceptional" is now becoming the norm.

I am constantly saying to my colleagues: "If the police force is squeezed down below a certain level and there are major cases" ... and there appear to be major cases every year now. I mean, when we had the Haut de la Garenne investigation we may have thought that was exceptional; it was quite exceptional in terms of for a number reasons including ones that will shortly be revealed, but in terms of resourcing et cetera. But in fact in 2009 we had the Warren case and in 2010 we had a number of major fraud cases. So, year after year we have these large cases. What I am saying in short is there is a safety valve built in within the policing system, whereby if our numbers get too low and the cases turn up we have to get resources and it costs time and a half.

Clearly part of what needs to be assessed is how much overtime would there have still been over three years after removing the exceptional items from the equation, and seeing if this, in total would work out cheaper if paid as overtime, or by the recruitment of extra officers.

3. Inefficient working practices

Senator Le Marquand highlights that

There have been inefficient practices within the police force and what happens, in any organisation, is that things gradually change but people do not entirely change their method of operation. You had police officers still making pocketbook notes of things and then going and making a statement, which these days, rather than writing out a statement, they will actually type in a statement on a computer while you had some police officers still doing both which is a waste of time. A pocket notebook is purely for something, you know: "What did the accused person say at the time? What do I need to write down immediately which I might forget the details of?" So there are issues like this that you can make the organisation more efficient simply by changing the way you deal with your procedures.

An additional method of improving matters can be technology on the spot. Many police cars across the world are now equipped with laptop computers.

Police officers can use laptops to type incident reports immediately at the scene, rather than take notes and type the reports later. This time saving feature allows them more time to patrol. Furthermore, police can also use laptops with wireless connections to central police headquarters to check such things as criminal records, vehicle registrations and outstanding warrants, which saves time and can assist in making arrests.(5)

Some UK forces are starting to bring this in. Other jurisdictions, such as Canada, have had them for some time:

This technology gives us a great advantage over the British bobby - I can check vehicles and people, access intelligence reports, update incidents, write reports and charge people without having to return to the station. I can see which calls are still waiting for police attention and how many minutes they've been waiting. (British officers note: minutes, not hours, and certainly not days.) (6)

4. Pay increases, differentials, and automatic increments

The matter of pay increases was only one part of the scrutiny committee meeting. The position on pay is that the pay increments are automatic - as Senator Le Marquand notes: "Well, if one goes back to the middle ages when I was a Chief Officer effective from 1990 to 1997, pay increments were given every year, they were automatic."

When there is no recession, there is not the same problem as at present because new officers are being recruited, and senior officers are retiring:

Historically they had quite often been happy to go at 50, get a nice part time job that pays their social security, pick up their pension and they are working less hours and they are better off.

But with a recession, there are fewer part time jobs, so the police are delaying retirement:

when you hit a major recession you are getting a situation where senior officers in the police force are delaying retirement. They can go between 50 and 55, take their pension rights. But when there were no part time jobs to go to, were no other options, they do not.

This would not matter if it was for the significant differential between a constable's pay and the same constable - in the same position - 12 years later, as the automatic increments kick in:

Because we have 8 increments over a period of 12 years, and most of those increments are in the first 4 years. The differential between the starting on appointment salary and the after 12 years salary is about £19,300 per officer plus. It is more than a 60 per cent increase. So, you can see that where we get a situation where our senior officers are not retiring but have remorselessly moved up the ranks, we get clobbered. You have got age increments over 12 years.

This is not the same as other "front line" occupations where there can also be significant risk in the kind of work:

The Fire Service has 8 increments over 10 years but the differentiation between the bottom and the top is £29,000 to £39,000 plus pension so that is only a differential of, I have worked out, 30 something per cent.

And in the civil service in general, it is far less:

We have been hit much worse than the other organisations because, in most organisations, people come in at a grade, say, 9/0 and they will reach 9/3 on average in 2.5 years' time. You stay on a grade 9/3 on the top. You could get jobs which had started on 9 and finished on 10 but we have a much worse situation.

Senator Le Marquand also highlights that the automatic nature of this pay rise means that just by staying in the job, and without any extra skills or training which is capable of examination, the officers get more pay:

I think this is perfectly ridiculous if you want to know my opinion of this. I think it is absolutely daft to have a differential of pay level of up to 60 per cent simply upon the basis that the person is more senior without any real serious attempt to assess whether they are a better officer or not a better officer. But this is the public sector. I came in in 1990 from the private sector running my own law firm and it is an extraordinary culture shock to arrive in an organisation where people's pays went up just because they were there longer irrespective of how well they were performing.

The Connétable of Grouville at this point also interjected to make the point that this acted as a discincentive:

I think that also it does not really encourage them to take examinations and move further up the ladder, does it, because if you are going to get a rise anyway, there is no point in taking an examination to get a promotion.

Senator Le Marquand agreed with this:

You have got to have proper incentive, it seems to me, for people to aspire to higher ranks and to be willing to put in extra work in examinations and take the extra responsibility.

So Senator Le Marquand is not just saying that the police are overpaid, as reported by the JEP, but he is saying that the pay structure is bad because of the automatic increments, and he nowhere says that "the police are overpaid", only that any pay rises should be merited - by extra work, examinations, responsibility - in order for a better police service. While not completely untrue, the JEP report gives a false impression that he attacking both pay and automatic increments, whereas in fact, a study of scrutiny shows that he is very definitely linking the two.

(3) Corporate Services Scrutiny Panel, Comprehensive Spending Review With The Minister for Home Affairs, Friday 25 June 2010 - all quotes by Senator Le Marquand are from this document
(4) The Economics of Overtime Working, Robert A. Hart

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