Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/799/18177
Cuts make the job impossible
A police shift worker
I work for the police as a call handler. I have to work shift patterns that include nights. We provide a service over 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. But we only get a 20% shift allowance, which my work colleagues feel is inadequate.
We are always tired by the time the night shifts come around as we have already completed four ten-hour shifts and know that the night shifts are the busiest and bring the most difficult calls.
My last night shift started at 10pm on Saturday night and ended at 7am the following Sunday morning. I usually try to lie in as late as possible on the day of my first night shift so that I am not so tired. This is not always possible. This time emergency road works kept me awake.
I arrived at work and I saw on the monitors that calls were already 'stacking'. This is when a high number of calls are coming in with not enough staff to answer them immediately. There were a lot of people waiting and some were 999 calls.
For the first four hours I handled mainly 999 calls. This is unusual and means that non emergency 101 calls were not being answered and a high number abandoned by the callers. Most of these callers are trying to report low level crime and anti-social behaviour.
After the first four hours I was speaking to people saying they called earlier in the evening but abandoned the call.
The issue was still going on so they called back to report it again. We all received a lot of abuse from angry callers, but who could blame them?
The busy period meant none of us were able to get a 'screen break'. We are told by the Health and Safety Executive to take a minimum break of five minutes every hour.
But if you take 'too many' trips away from your desk, a supervisor is quick to jump on you. They say: "If you want a screen break stay sitting at your desk and look at the far wall for a bit".
Some calls are mundane and frustrating to deal with but others are harrowing and distressing to listen to and very hard to handle.
When we handle such a call there is a 'quiet room' set aside from the department that we can retreat to in order to gather ourselves.
On my last night shift I saw an upset colleague, who had just handled a very violent domestic incident, told to return to her work station as it was too busy to be 'sat out here'.
My shift ended with the last couple of hours spent talking predominantly to the growing amount of vulnerable people or callers with mental health conditions.
Again, these calls can be very difficult to deal with. I have had two people commit suicide on the phone with me in the past and I am always anxious and desperate to help them.
By the time I went home I was so tired I drove with the window open so the cold air would keep me from falling asleep at the wheel.
Cuts have meant a large number of people have lost their jobs, some with a vast amount of experience and knowledge.
In my opinion, it has left the organisation with too few people, some who are less able and prepared to deal with the challenges of the job.
We are experiencing a peak in calls from vulnerable people with mental health issues, drug use problems, among other things.
The police are expected to pick up the pieces but, with the latest round of cuts, this will be impossible.
In The Socialist 19 February 2014:
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