One of the UK’s biggest police forces is suffering a detective shortage and is pulling investigators out of retirement to help solve crimes.
Greater Manchester police (GMP) is struggling to recruit young people who want to become detectives because of the job’s poor work-life balance compared with other policing roles, its chief constable has said.
Nearly one in 10 detective posts at the force were unfilled at the end of June, amounting to 163 vacancies, and GMP was forced to use an agency supplying recently retired detectives to bridge the gap.
Stephen Watson, who was appointed chief constable in May last year, said it was “perfectly reasonable” that young people did not want to work long hours and that many who joined the police instead chose to take a path with more predictable shifts.
He told the Guardian: “There’s no doubt about it that people are increasingly – and I don’t ascribe any judgment to this, it is a perfectly respectable phenomenon – but people are increasingly ascribing a higher value to the work-life balance than they might have done in the past.”
He said people were choosing other jobs, such as working in a custody office or as a response officer, because they would know when their working days would start and finish.
“As a detective, it is very much more dynamic, it’s very much more fluid. And you might just get caught up with a live job, which really is going to keep you in place for an awful long time. That happens quite a lot. So people are opting out in some cases for that reason,” he added.
The pay for new detectives is the same as other roles and so the challenge was getting across to potential detectives “the wider fulfilment that comes from doing a really valuable job”, he said.
The force was doing as much as it could to recruit new staff, he added, but in the meantime bosses had called in retired detectives to help.
The chief constable said: “We are using agency staff, who are basically retired investigators, to plug those gaps whilst that pipeline comes to fruition.
“We are using the money that we might otherwise spend on detectives on agency staff until that sort of putative detectives come through. And that seems to be working quite well for us.”
Watson said the force had made improvements since December 2020, when it was placed in special measures.
Inspectors from Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS) expressed “serious cause for concern” when the force failed to record one-fifth of all reported crimes, and criticised GMP for failing to report 80,000 crimes in the year to 30 June that year.
However, it appears to have made a marked improvement, as GMP figures showed in May this year that arrests were 61% higher compared with May 2021, and there was a 16% increase in the recording of domestic abuse incidents.
One-fifth more crimes led to a charge or summons and, in May 2022 alone, the force solved 1,000 more crimes than the same time period the previous year, an increase of 46%.
Watson said: “We’re on a real trajectory to earning the right for HMIC to make more benign judgments to the performance of the force. I’m just a little over a year into my tenure here and the progress has been absolutely fantastic.”
One of these measures of progress, he said, was the increase in the use of controversial stop and search powers, which have more than doubled in Greater Manchester since May 2021, reaching the highest level in two years.
He said: “I’m very clear, all stop and search has to be lawful, it has to be objective, and it has to be conducted respectfully. But it does have to be done. Because not doing it is a failure in the sense that we can intervene to prevent bad things from happening.”
He said stop and search complaints had reduced by 38% in the past 18 months, due to taking an “ethical” approach.