Police are actively seeking ways to bring retired officers back into service to help plug experience gaps with the service set for a huge expansion after years of contraction through austerity spending.
Work has started on recruiting the first tranche of 20,000 additional officers promised by the last Conservative Government, in addition to those needed to cover retirements.
It means that within the next few years the profile of the service will become increasingly young as new recruits move in to fill vacancies created by officers retiring and the additional roles expected.
That is compounded by the fact few officers were recruited during austerity, as forces contracted, meaning there have been fewer staff in the process of developing their skills.
Meanwhile, forces will be further stripped of the skills and experience gained by officers over their careers though the relatively short policing career means many of them will still have many years of potentially active working lives.
Now it has emerged senior figures nationally to try to find ways of recapturing some of that experience – often gained in highly specialised roles – to help fill the void which will emerge.
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One difficulty is that current tax rules effectively penalise officers who stay on beyond the expected 30 year career, even though that mean someone recruited at 18 ending their policing career aged 48.
South Yorkshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner, Dr Alan Billings, said: “What police are beginning to talk about nationally is the possibility of persuading Government to relax rules around the retirement of officers and have officers newly retired, some of them, to come back into the service in some way.
“That is particularly relevant to certain skills, particularly around investigative skills.
“In this area, the National Crime Agency has been taking recently retired detectives from South Yorkshire and forces around here to work on Operation Stovewood in Rotherham.”
That is the huge investigation into allegations of historic child sexual abuse which is currently going on and requires a massive investment in manpower.
“They have 200 officers, many of whom are recently retired detectives,” he said.
It was possible some police officers would want to continue their work, possibly on a part time basis, after leaving their formal career, he said: “It is not as if every police officer has spent their lives walking the streets, they have acquired other skills which they have built up over the years and experience.
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“It is a tragedy that is lost because someone simply crosses that 30 year line. People may not want to commit full time but may want to come back part time,” he said.
South Yorkshire Police already use civilian investigators, with some of those retired detectives as well as colleagues new to the role.
Recent changes to police pensions mean today’s recruits will work longer careers than those currently approaching retirement, but that will do nothing to bridge the gap in skills and policing experience in the years immediately ahead.
Meanwhile, Dr Billings has also said the workforce at South Yorkshire Police’s Atlas Court communications centre needs to be retained to prevent the force losing the skills they have.
“If you are going to retain them, you need reasonable pay and conditions and reasonable chances of career progression,” he said, “All these things need to be looked at.
“You need a good workforce, which I think we have got. You need to make sure they are retained,” he said.
Atlas Court has been under pressure for years as numbers of calls to the force have increased and a new computerised call handling system was installed in a £12m project months ago.
Now average waiting times for those calling 101 are down to around eight minutes, but it is accepted there are some which rise well beyond that level.
Dr Billings said work was being done to look at how that element could be given a better service in future.