Police officers are quitting their jobs at an unprecedented rate. A newly published research project from the University of Portsmouth aimed to find out why.
The latest Home Office data shows the number of police officers voluntarily resigning from forces in England and Wales has more than doubled in the last eight years.
The numbers of officers voluntarily resigning from the police service rose from 1,158 in the year ending March 2012 to 2,363 in the year ending March 2020. The figure amounts to 1.83 per cent of the total police officer population in England and Wales, up from 0.86 per cent eight years ago.
Until now, scant attention has been paid to the reason for this mass exodus, but a team led by Dr Sarah Charman from the Institute of Criminal Justice Studies at the University of Portsmouth intends to change that.
“By any measure this rise is steep and troubling, especially when coupled with a more complex policing landscape requiring knowledge and experience,”
said Dr Charman. “It seems more important than ever therefore to provide an insight into a relatively under-researched aspect of policing – why police officers resign prematurely from the police service through what could be argued to be avoidable turnover.”
The researchers then carried out a small-scale study of officers who had resigned voluntarily from one medium-sized police force in England between November 2014 and June 2019. The study was published this week in the journal Policing and Society. The data from this survey of 46 police leavers plus 27 interviews suggests a number of contributory factors, the majority relating to three areas:
Dr Charman said: “With policing in England and Wales undergoing one of the biggest recruitment drives in modern history and the focus for the Home Office firmly back in favour of retention, an understanding of what contributes to a decline in organisational commitment and ultimately to avoidable turnover within policing is crucial.
“This research has endeavoured to understand this relationship and its findings have important implications for the police service in England and Wales.”
The researchers concluded that internal organisational issues are far more relevant to an individual officer’s intention to leave policing than occupational factors.
While there are also relevant external factors, particularly in relation to ‘excessive’ workloads, which clearly impact on levels of dissatisfaction, the focus for change would appear to be in a consideration of how the social exchange factors, which are so crucial to an enhanced sense of organisational commitment can be rebalanced equitably to take account of both the individual needs of staff in addition to organisational demand.