Agency staff are being taken on by Lancashire Police to help deal with a mountain of extra work in the wake of the Jimmy Savile abuse scandal.
Chief constable Steve Finnigan has admitted the force is having to use a “short-term fix” to try and clear the backlog of complaints, particularly historic sex allegations.
Temporary staff are being taken on in Preston and Blackpool to assist public protection units to get up to date with crippling caseloads.
But the Police Federation, which represents rank and file officers, has warned the employment of non-police staff to take witness statements – and even interview suspects and give evidence in court – is storing up problems for the future.
“Sadly, the police budgets have been cut to such an extent that one of the only alternatives is to seek agency staff to support investigations,” said the union’s Lancashire chairman Rachel Baines.
“The cuts are now starting to show and this is just the tip of the iceberg.”
The force has advertised through recruiters Police Skills for investigation assistants on contracts from three to six months.
The successful candidates are being offered £11.71 an hour to assist overworked departments which are battling to address an explosion of child sexual exploitation cases since Savile’s crimes were uncovered.
Chief Constable Finnigan told the Evening Post: “The demand in public protection units, particularly with the historic CSE investigations we are dealing with, is high.
“This is a short-term fix. We have to get some agency staff in to do some of those things that in any professional investigation need to be done, but don’t need the powers of a warranted officer.
“So we will bring them in on a short-term basis to try
and eat into some of the queues and some of the demand that isn’t being serviced as quickly as we would have wished.
“I know and I understand absolutely why the Federation would raise an eyebrow at this.
“But we have lost 700 officers and 500 police staff – it
is a really difficult conundrum.”
Police throughout Britain have been dealing with a wave of complaints post-Savile and many forces are finding it difficult to cope with the increase in workload. Chief Constable Finnigan said: “It’s not at all surprising that lots of people are coming forward about sexual offences and we will believe them, treat them fairly and do whatever we have to get justice for them.
“But we are being squeezed in terms of safeguarding and public protection because the volume is so high.”
Ms Baines added: “I believe that civilian investigators will start to look like the norm
in terms of policing in the future.
“I predict that, with the use of agency staff, we will see a loss of skills within the police service and eventually we
will run out of retired detectives to take on this type of function.
“I only hope that the victims in these cases get the level of service they deserve.”