In early November this year, a study appeared in the digital journal The Conversation in which English professors of Criminology at the University of Portsmouth, Jemma Tyson and Sarah Charman, delved into the causes of the increase in resignations of police officers in England and Wales.
The authors explain that being a policeman had for many years been a job for life. There were very low dropout rates and high loyalty rates, where careers of 30 years or more were the norm. But it seems the tables have turned.
According to official government data, the number of voluntary resignations from the police service in England and Wales has risen by 72% between 2021 and 2022, from 1,996 to 3,433 dropouts. In addition, voluntary resignations currently account for 42% of all police drop-outs, up from 33% the previous year. And when compared to ten years ago, in 2012, there were 1,158 voluntary resignations, representing only 18% of all who resigned. Therefore, in just ten years voluntary resignations have increased by 196%.
What in 2016 was regarded as a positive turnover by the National Council of Chiefs of Police is now a serious problem. Both authors of the study felt that they should investigate the reasons why staff leave. For two years they interviewed about 100 former police officers from England and Wales who had voluntarily left the service.
The main motivation for leaving work are internal and organisational problems, amongst others: former officers complained of poor leadership, lack of opportunities for promotion or progression and no voice in the organisation. The policemen who had left the organisation stated that they did not feel valued and lacked appropriate models in the higher ranks. In particular, female officers with children complained.
The former officers interviewed stated that they had felt they were just a number to the police force and that their voices were not heard. They also did not feel that they could share their views or participate in decision-making on issues that affected them in their daily work, as they felt that chiefs spent time focusing on their own careers and concerns.
That feeling of insignificance was also shared by police who were sent to unwanted sites after being promoted, returning from an absence or due to restructuring within the organisation.
The researchers also found that most interviewees replied that their decision to resign was the right one, but that did not take away from the disappointment, regret and sadness they felt when they left.
These feelings of a lack of support from the organisation are compounded by the lack of meaningful exit interviews. Only 35% of the officers interviewed were offered the possibility of an exit interview.
Understanding why there has been a 196% increase in voluntary resignations from the police service in England and Wales over the past decade may be a painful task for many police forces, but without that information, retention can only get worse. Starting those tough conversations and providing those who leave with the voice they lack within the force is the first step in solving the problem.