Police overtime payments questioned

PRESSURE groups have raised “serious questions” over Suffolk police's pay guidelines after it emerged some officers are receiving the equivalent of half of their salaries in overtime payments.

Josh Warwick

PRESSURE groups have raised “serious questions” over Suffolk police's pay guidelines after it emerged some officers are receiving the equivalent of half of their salaries in overtime payments.

One sergeant earning �39,006 a year took home an extra �20,354 for working additional hours, while a constable on an annual wage of �32,079 pocketed another �14,527.

The EADT has also learned police officers in the county were handed more than �37,000 over the last two years in bonus payments.

The rewards included payments of �500 for vaguely titled “important work”, �150 for handling dead bodies and �100 for passing exams - prompting concerns officers are being rewarded for covering basic duties.

Matthew Elliott, chief executive of the TaxPayers' Alliance, said asking officers to work extended shifts could affect their ability to perform to a high standard.

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“As well as the financial cost, there are serious questions about whether these payments are a good idea,” he said.

“It is very concerning that an officer with such serious powers can be working 70 hour weeks - that is bound to have an effect on their judgement and ability to perform.

“It would be better for officers' stress levels and the public finances if there was less red tape and there were more of them free to do the frontline job.”

Mr Elliott said the public would be “very surprised” to learn that their taxes were being used to pay officers extra for carrying out aspects of their basic responsibilities, including dealing with unpleasant crimes.

Among the bonuses paid out, which can be published following a Freedom of Information request, include �15,775 given to officers involved in the Steve Wright investigation.

Of the constabulary's 1,280 full time equivalent staff, 162 received bonus payments in 2007-8 and 71 in 2008-9.

The Police Negotiating Board Agreement on police pay and conditions allows the chief constable to award bonuses of between �50 and �500.

Meanwhile, figures show that the amount paid to officers in overtime in 2008 was �3,295,412. The figure for 2009, up to the end of July, stood at �1,328,587. However, the actual cost to the public purse was �1,875,984 and �1,045,162 respectively after the force reclaimed costs for policing private events, like football matches, and working for other forces through the mutual aid scheme.

The average sum paid in overtime to every officer was �2,634.45 last year.

Police overtime is believed to cost the 43 forces in England and Wales about �485 million a year.

Bonuses were introduced in 2002. Last year 53,474 of the 133,632 officers in England received some payout.

A spokesman for Suffolk police said bonus payments were designed to “reward occasional work of a particularly demanding, unpleasant or important nature” where the officer has “significantly exceeded” the normal expectations of their role.

He added: “This may include things such as courage in the face of extreme violence, sensitive management and handling of an extremely vulnerable victim, or developing a new policy or working practice that has substantial implications and required considerable extra work.”

The spokesman said overtime payments were necessary because of the unpredictable nature of policing.

“There will always be the need for overtime,” he said. “However, it must be closely monitored, not only to manage our finances, but to also manage the welfare of officers.”

Suffolk Police Federation chairman Matt Gould said the federation would prefer more officers to do the work rather than large amounts of overtime.

Five officers who took home the most overtime pay in 2008:

Rank Salary Overtime

Sergeant �39,006 �20,354.16

Constable �34,707 �15,881.98

Sergeant �39,006 �14,623.52

Constable �32,079 �14,527.10

Sergeant �37,893 �14,524.77

Total paid out in bonuses:

2007 and 2008: �37,810.

Examples of bonuses:

�100 for sergeant exam passes

�500 for inspector for “important work”

Between �50 and �150 for handling dead body

�500 for work on Operation Sumac, the Steve Wright murder investigation

�200 for a kidnap investigation

�50 for “unpleasant incident”