Just before Christmas I was working on one of our usual 'Operation Overkill' jobs that the SMT (Senior Management Team) put together to show an overwhelming Police presence at times when lots of visitors or tourists are around such as the Christmas period, school holidays, Notting Hill etc. As usual, the only people actually earning overtime were those on ring fenced squads who the duties office 'forgot' to warn early enough and the office dwelling shiny arses who only ever turn out for double time, the rest of us were on a cancelled rest day. For those not in the know, this is a rostered rest day between shifts where we are ordered to work unpaid overtime in exchange for a rest day back, the kick in the teeth is that we are usually not allowed to take them, let alone normal annual leave, because we are always under strength, so they just get 'banked' and sit unused for months on end.
The nature of the op was the same as it always is, swamp a given area with ten times the normal number of Police officers on a Friday and Saturday night duty without providing extra custody space or a charge centre, no extra vehicles or computer terminals (can't use the locked offices as they are apparently personal issue and woe betide anyone who uses one at night) and role out people for official visits like MP's, 'strategic partners' or Judges so they can look at how many Police officers work at night. The response officers then role their eyes or shake their heads in disgust as said visitors say things like "wow, I thought Policemen complain they are always short staffed"
I was on a post near one of our 'high footfall areas' (or 'busy' as I like to call them) with a couple of guys from my team, all equally miffed at losing our weekend and finding out all the other people in our area were being paid overtime as we stood in our obligatory bright yellow vests which apparently makes people feel safer. Our job was to 'provide presence and reassurance' and also to discourage anti social behaviour from large groups of drunk/sober/young males and/or females and to proactively enforce local policy and prevent crime. Basically what we try and do every single weekend, but on a much larger scale so that when the SMT look at all the arrest figures on Monday morning they can pat themselves on the back and all sit in their group huddle wringing hands in glee.
Along with all the comments from people surprised at seeing ten Police officers on one street let alone a hundred or so in a small area, as a guy walked past me he said "alright lads?? On overtime are we??" as though he was talking to a five year old with his hand in the cookie jar after being told he couldn't have any. Before I could answer, one of my colleagues said "actually no, we've had our weekend cancelled so we're working for free while everyone else is being paid, and I personally have had to cancel a holiday that I'd already paid for because of it, so we've been royally shit on. But thanks for asking" The guy walked off with his mates in stunned silence, obviously unable to use his witty retort, had we said yes.
But this got me thinking, there are an awful lot of misconceptions in the public about how overtime is paid, who is eligible, what rate it's paid at and how available it is. After the pay dispute march there were loads of comments on the BBC's Have Your Say pages with people claiming that we can get all the overtime we want, that we get lots of days off to 'swan about' and that we get to pick and choose what jobs we get to do.
Firstly I would like to point out that overtime is exactly that - OVER TIME. Just like every other organisation in the UK, the Police are governed by the Working Time Regulations which restrict a working week to 40 hours. The shift patterns that we work all average out to 40 hours a week over the year whether we work 8, 10 or 12 hour shifts. Obviously if you work 12 hour shifts you are working a long day but the upside of that is you get a rest day for each day worked (such as 4 on, 4 off like the Fire Brigade although they get to sleep on night duties) whereas if you work an 8 hour pattern then you get the equivalent of a 2 day weekend after 5 days working. We already work as much as we are legally supposed to so any over time that we do work is above and beyond our existing shift, and we are compensated for it by having rest days or paid overtime should we be required/requested or instructed to work more.
My personal view now, is that my free time is worth at least as much to me as the organisation and if they want it, then they can buy it off me. Also, I'm entitled to my rest days just as much as everyone who works and if I wish to 'swan about' when everyone else is at work and I'm supposed to be off then that is my business! I quite like the saying "this is my weekend, I work shifts" when people ask me why I'm off at seemingly random times.
Just like the vast majority of officers I often worked without claiming any overtime or even hours in lieu. When I was a probationer I really had no clue how the overtime system worked or what I was actually entitled to take such as expenses for subsistence when working away from my normal base, or double time when given less than 8 days notice as it was at the time. I turned up, worked when I was told to, worked when it was offered to me and went in on my rest days to clear my paperwork tray down and book on for time in lieu for the hours I was there. When my payslip came through if I got paid overtime then great, if not, then I wasn't really bothered. The flip side of this was that I was permanently knackered and slept through my rest days, had virtually no work/life balance and saw my family, let alone my friends less than once a month if I was lucky.
The rules and regulations for how and when overtime is paid is strictly adhered to because of budget constraints and if there is any reason what-so-ever that the duties office can actually get out of paying us then they will. There are three main types of overtime that we can work - planned paid, planned unpaid and unplanned. The latter is the easiest one to explain, if we are at work and arrest someone and have to work over our rostered finish time then we would incur unplanned overtime AFTER the first half hour from when the shift is supposed to finish. We don't get paid for the first half hour at all however if you claim all the overtime as unpaid leave then you can claim that time back.
Unplanned overtime has to be authorised (in the Met anyway, other forces have different procedures) by the Duty Officer who is of the rank of Acting Inspector or above and is usually given strict limits such as 2 - 4 hours or as necessary and justified on a regular hourly basis. Each team has a strict overtime budget for the year and the team Inspectors are penalised in their annual PDR if they exceed the budget, so it is in their interest to not pay overtime if it can be avoided and will encourage the job being handed over to someone else, or even outright refusing to pay as I have seen a few times. Unplanned overtime is paid at the rate of time + a third after the first half hour is deducted. In the days of the overtime binder (it's now all electronically based) the different types of overtime were written in different coloured pens so they could be quickly identified. Unplanned as such is referred to as 'black' because it is standard paid overtime, doesn't need checking or confirming and was simply written in black pen.
Planned paid overtime happens when we receive either a warning for duty from the duties office, or if you are on rest days and called to be offered to work for a specific Op, such as manning up the core team when short staffed (hardly ever happens) or more regular 'Aid' warnings such as demos, football, Op Safeguard (housing prisoners at Police stations due to prison overcrowding) or role specific tasks for specialists. If we are warned with less than 15 days notice then we are entitled to be paid time + a half for the number of hours worked, referred to as green, or if the warning is less than 5 days notice it is paid at double time and is referred to as red.
Planned unpaid overtime happens when we are warned well in advanced for things like 'Force cancelled rest days' which would be New Year or Notting Hill for example where everyone has their rest days cancelled and are required to work unless they have already submitted leave applications that have been authorised. They are also used more often and more recently for expected high level public order events such as football fixtures where everyone eligible (such as public order trained or specialists) are cancelled as soon as the date is announced to avoid having to pay them overtime. Once the people ordered to work on those days are confirmed, anyone surplus to the operation has their rest days reinstated.
The main bone of contention at the moment is the extensive use cancelling rest days meaning we are unable to plan leave or get the leave applications refused only to find we don't get used, by then it's too late to plan as partners/families are unable to take leave at short notice with their employers. I have been cancelled for two days in a row to prevent me from claiming a recall to duty (as below) and then only ever getting one day back if worked. Unplanned unpaid overtime is also counted against budgets so the SMT's are penalised against the number of rest days or hours left on their books, the more outstanding untaken rest days, the higher the penalty.
This penalty means that the SMT invariably refuse requests from teams to work unpaid days to do things like team training, courses outside of normal work days, team planned ops such as ANPR (automatic number plate recognition system - scans intelligence databases for reports against specific vehicles/drivers), drugs/arrest warrants or rapid entry jobs. When I was a probationer and would go in on rest days I actually found out I wasn't supposed to but because I had work to show for it, it was honoured, however there is no way that we can do that now due to the budget costs.
In addition to the rates at which overtime is paid there are regs covering 'recall to duty' which is starting more than an hour before the force working day of 0700 hours or just over an hour going into a rest day following a night shift. These cover incidences such as in early morning raids where we start at 0400 (for example) or are supposed to finish at 0700 following a night duty and then work past 0815 following an arrest. A recall following nights has to be authorised by the duty officer and to get it passed it will have to be a 'decent' arrest such as a drink driver, serious assault or robbery, nicking any old rubbish will usually result in being told in no uncertain terms to sod off! A recall can be lucrative as it is a minimum of 4 hours and one hour travel at double time however after working a set of nights, most people are too knackered and to go actively hunting at 0600 knowing you will be doing at least an extra 2-3 hours after a 10 or 12 hour shift just isn't appealing despite the money, although most teams have at least one overtime bandit who actively seeks it.
As we are unable to simply pick and choose when we can do overtime (unless called and offered, but to refuse is a sure way of never getting called again) a good way of becoming more eligible to be allocated overtime is to get a specialist skill such as advanced driver, PSU driver (to drive public order carriers), public order trained, public order specialists, search trained or POLSA, custody Sgt, call handling/control room or to be surveillance trained etc. These courses are hard to get and we have to work towards them by evidencing suitability to even apply to some, let alone joining the back of a long list of people already waiting. They are invariably subject to minimum tenures at division or minimum levels of service/training before hand, they are also a double edged sword as although you are making yourself more eligible to work paid overtime, you are also making yourself more eligible to frequent cancellations and reallocated rest days.
Some specialists do get more pay by having mandatory overtime, however there is no extra pay for just being a specialist (such as firearms) everyone at the same rank gets paid the same for length of service regardless of skill sets or level of responsibility. Some specialist teams work an 8 hour shift pattern but have a mandatory 4 hours overtime so they work 12 hour days and get paid for the additional overtime, but get less rest days due to the 8 hour pattern. It is not for everyone, especially if you like to have your rest days, but I have a few mates in some specialist posts and depending on your needs it can be a good option.
After the 7/7 bombings and the subsequent attempts on 21/7, there was a massive amount of overtime going for a good 4 months which cost the Met tens of millions of pounds to run reassurance and extra security patrols around strategic and vulnerable sites. This did have quite an effect on crime within the areas that were being policed but there were also a lot of people physically run into the floor by having no time off to recover, which is why the Met now operate a policy of working no more than 7 days straight without a rest day, although it still happens. It also has meant that there is hardly any money available for normal overtime due to contingent budgets and the fact that the Met is still trying to claw back as much money from everywhere possible to make up for it. Contrary to some of the comments I've read by people on blogs and on news sites, we can't just walk into work and book on for double time on a whim.