Thursday, December 6, 2007

Part Time Police

The recent report by the New South Wales Auditor General revealed that the completion rate for police investigations fails to meet the standard of other states. It also highlighted the issue of the controversial block rostering system which can see police officers work three or four twelve hour shifts and then have as many as six consecutive days rostered off. This system is unique to New South Wales and critics have made the connection between rosters and a “part time policing” mentality.

There is a number of important concerns about this practice that deserve to be properly addressed. Block rostering is popular among police because it allows them to have extended breaks, which many of them use to moonlight in second jobs. Now, anybody is entitled to do whatever they like in their own time, so it’s perfectly legitimate for police to have second jobs. But while there are controls in place to prevent inappropriate employment, there seems to be no clear policy on fatigue management. If somebody is working two jobs it would be fair to assume that fatigue could be an issue.

But it’s not simply a matter of second jobs. Even if an officer isn’t moonlighting, the length of the shifts themselves could also lead to fatigue problems, given the demanding nature of much police work. Then there’s the situation where an officer is off duty for three or four days, or even more. Does that mean investigations can come to a standstill, and is that really in the best interests of the community?

The Police Association insists that the system works very well at attracting and retaining personnel, and that if it was changed, as many as one third of officers would leave the force. The commissioner says that he supports the right of officers to take second jobs. The difference is that no other employer bends as far over backwards to accommodate its workers moonlighting.

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