26th May 2022
A survey conducted by the Gibraltar Police Federation has found that many officers in the Royal Gibraltar Police suffer from low morale and have considered leaving the force in the past year.
Over half of the 177 respondents who completed the survey – representing 77% of the Federation’s membership – said they had contemplated finding other work, citing high stress, poor work/life balance and concerns about organisational management and morale as their reasons.
Some 72% said they felt overworked and 55% said they were currently suffering from work-related stress.
The findings are largely in line with earlier surveys conducted by the Federation and will be disappointing for senior managers at the force, who have spent the past two years driving a reform process at the RGP in line with recommendations made by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabularies and Fire Services.
At the core of that reform process is a cultural shift within the force that seeks to place officers at the forefront of all decision-making to achieve a deeper understanding of core strategic demands and future risks.
Commisioner Richard Ullger and his team feel they have made tangible and visible progress implementing the HMICFRS recommendations, while acknowledging there is still more to do and that change takes time.
But the Federation survey points to unease in the workforce.
Some 57% of respondents said their morale was currently low or very low. Worryingly, 90% of them also said they perceived morale in the force as low or very low.
Additionally, 44% of officers who answered the anonymous survey said they had suffered bullying or victimisation at work, though for 59% of those, the incidents they were referring to had occurred at least over a year ago. Some 60% said they had witnessed bullying or victimisation at work.
The survey offered respondents a range of examples of bullying, ranging from ‘passive aggressive incidents’ (24%) and ‘being sent to Coventry’ (18%), to ‘public humiliation’ (15%) and being passed over for promotion (7%), among others.
Most of them said they had not reported the incidents they had experienced or witnessed for fear of repercussions or because they had no faith in a positive result.
The survey also identified dissatisfaction with changes to shift patterns and minimum staffing levels set by management, with 57% saying they felt unsafe or very unsafe carrying out operational duties.
It reflected too concerns about working environment, equipment and IT systems, as well as procedures regarding as too cumbersome by many officers.
Maurice Morello, the chairman of the Federation, said the issues highlighted by members remained the same and were not being addressed by RGP management.
He said the survey pointed to a perception of morale in the force “at an all-time low” and that a high workload, poor IT systems and “appalling” management of records added to the stresses of policing.
“Over the last few years’ we have seen an increase of officers suffering from mental health wellbeing issues which are being caused directly by work, or at least being aggravated by this,” he said.
“Our mental health well-being referrals have gone up significantly [and] 40% of our members have been referred since the system was implemented several years ago.”
“If this is not a red flag, I do not know what is.”
Mr Morello gave credit to the RGP for implementing a new system to fast-track assistance for officers that needed it.
But he said the focus must be on prevention rather than cure, adding that “…management must acknowledge that our procedures are over complicated, non-user friendly, and in most cases duplicitous and excessively bureaucratic.”
“When it comes to mental health wellbeing, in a period where we are asked to do more with less, it can come as no surprise that our colleagues are suffering from poor mental health,” he said, adding this was an issue that affected all ranks.
He recognised that the RGP had implemented a system of Wellbeing Champions and Mental Health First Aid, but said more training was needed for managers to help them identify early signs and symptoms.
He said implementing fixed-penalty notices for minor offences – something that the RGP has long been pushing for – would streamline processes and remove tape to help officers work “smarter, not harder”.
Mr Morello said the RGP’s current shift pattern often left response teams operating minimum manning levels, which was impacting morale and was not sustainable.
The process of having civilians handle backroom administrative tasks should be accelerated – it has been promised since 2016 – and no new officers have been recruited to staff new departments created as a result of HMIC recommendations.
“When there are a limited number of officers at your disposal and these are transferred elsewhere to accommodate for the birth of new departments, this is a recipe for disaster, as you are stretching your resources to the limit, with the subsequent impact that this can have on individuals,” he said.
“Needless to say, a happy workforce will promote morale and will increase productivity.”
Despite the critical findings, Mr Morello acknowledged too the work done by the RGP on bullying, including implementing a new Bullying at Work Policy and a revamped grievance procedure.
Presentations have also been delivered to all officers by Dignity at Work, an organisation which, according to Mr Morello, was “persona non grata” under the RGP’s previous management.
“Still, it is disappointing to see that the bullying stats have not improved more than they have in the last year,” he added.
Further presentations and training from Dignity at Work are being planned for officers later on in the year, and an RGP anti bullying advisory committee - which will include Dignity at Work personnel, Federation Convenors and RGP officers - is being established.
The survey found that just 11% of respondents were confident that senior management would address their concerns, however.
The Federation has approached the Gibraltar Police Authority and called on it to implement targets and timelines to deal with the issues raised by the survey.
“The Gibraltar Police Federation wants our members’ views to be taken seriously, in the same way that HMIC recommendations are actioned,” he said.
“The Gibraltar Police Federation looks after the welfare and efficiency of its’ members. We have and will always be willing to work alongside Command in order to improve any aspect that could better working conditions of our members.”
For Commissioner Richard Ullger, the survey’s findings were a blow after months of hard work across the force to drive change.
“Naturally I am extremely disappointed with the results of the survey, particularly because of all the hard work we have done to reform the Royal Gibraltar Police over the past two years,” he told the Chronicle.
“Notwithstanding this, together with my Command Team I am committed to working with the Gibraltar Police Federation in order to improve conditions for our workforce.”
“It is important that it is the workforce that is listened to and that the ultimate aim is to continue to deliver a safer Gibraltar through excellence in policing.”
“We are conscious that there is a lot of work that we have to do to achieve this.”
“We do need a better police headquarters to work from and our IT infrastructure is slow and cumbersome.”
“Our officers also need to feel valued and respected, particularly when we take into consideration the risks and threats they deal with on a daily basis.”
“These are issues that the Command Team and I are fully aware of and determined to resolve, but I am also cognisant that Gibraltar has just come out of a very difficult and challenging period during Covid, and our future remains uncertain in respect of border issues.”
Mr Ullger highlighted the work done to address the issue of bullying and the underlying “blame culture” that respondents alluded to in the survey.
He said the RGP had implemented policies and procedures to tackle this robustly and transparently.
Alongside the DAWN sessions, managers had received leadership training to foster a learning ethos in the organisation and draw positive outcomes from mistakes.
And he said too that it was important to await the outcome of a recent inspection by HMICFRS to assess the RGP’s progress in implementing its earlier recommendations.
“Although I do value the survey as a source of data, I think it will be important to also wait and see what the recent inspection of the Royal Gibraltar Police by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabularies and Fire and Rescue Services reveals,” he said.
“Over a month ago they undertook a rigorous inspection of the organisation, which entailed interviews at all levels, focus group meetings, ethnographic monitoring and the opportunity for officers to see them unannounced.”
“I am hopeful that this report on the inspection will be completed soon and allow us to better understand what the Royal Gibraltar Police has achieved and what we need to do to be better.”