What you need to know
Poor working conditions have taken a toll on recruiting, further compounding the problems of overworked police.
The contentious amendments to the Labor Standards Act (LSA) are entering their third month, having come into force March 1, but it is not just migrant caregivers who fall outside the Act's minimal worker protections – spare a thought for Taiwan's boys in blue.
Hsiao Ren-hao (蕭仁豪), criminal investigator and a member of the unofficial advocacy group Taiwan Police Union (TPU, 台灣警察工作權益推動協會) told The News Lens, “I worked 88 hours of overtime [in February], 16 hours of which were unpaid. There are so many unfair things that happen to us, and we often don’t understand why we don’t get paid.”
Hsiao said, “I graduated from Central Police University and thought I would be starting a good job. I always looked up to cops, but things have really changed – we have so much work.”
He added that it was common for police officers to work and drive while extremely deprived of sleep: “Do you think after such a long day we can be safe on the road?”
National Police Agency (NPA) public relations officer Lu Wen-ting (呂文廷) told The News Lens over LINE that police officers working 12-hour shifts were typically those out in the field (外勤), rather than those doing office work, but confirmed that working eight hours with four hours overtime was common.
Several professions, including police and nurses, are not covered under the LSA, and workers can be compelled to put in long hours at the whim of their employers. Police are governed under the Police Service Regulations (警察勤務條例), which state that police are in principle to work only eight hours per day, but that overtime can be required under, "special circumstances," which includes a lack of manpower.
There is also a cap on the number of overtime hours for which police can be paid, after which they will merely receive a letter of commendation for their work. The TPU takes the view that police have been “caught in the middle” between protesters and the government -- subjected to long hours when protests occur, but unable to openly advocate on their own behalf.
The TPU also claims that police in Taiwan have a life expectancy of only 69 years – more than a decade shorter than the general population.
The Taiwan Police Union has even hired cartoonists to raise awareness of their working conditions.
Several studies have shown that police officers were especially at risk of heart attack and obesity from the long work hours, processed food and generally sedentary nature of police work.
Beyond the well-being of the officers themselves, an exhausted police force has broader implications for society. A widely-cited study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that judges in Israel were several times more likely to give lenient sentences after they had a break, suggesting that the converse – hungry, tired police officers – may be inclined to dish out harsher treatment to citizens.
An underlying reason for this problem is a lack of new police officers in Taiwan. In an English-language statement titled “Awaken of Woman’s Energy – Give a Thumb to Police Dependents and Women” the NPA called attention to this shortage, saying “Since the lacking of police, their works are extreme busy and irregular working time. We cannot take their consideration for granted.”
Police are even leaving the country to go to Singapore, where they frequently serve as auxiliary police at border crossings, according to Channel News Asia.
In response to the shortage, the NPA has taken creative steps to recruit new officers, including a scattershot social media campaign.
A recruitment ad from the NPA begins, "Do you like dogs? Then come join the police force."
Another ad encourages those who dream of becoming e-sports players to join the police force instead.
One traffic cop, Shi Ming-jin (石明謹) told The News Lens, "Ninety-nine percent (of traffic cops) work 12 hour days. The lack of manpower is the biggest problem – If you need 12 people to do the job, they just tell eight people to do it and assign four hours of overtime. Now, the conditions are so bad that there is a manpower shortage of 16,000-17,000 people."
He added that whenever the police force create a new team, they pull officers from other departments rather than hire new people. "When I joined the Da’an Branch Traffic Team in 1997, there were 136 members on our team, but when I transferred to Wanhua three years ago, there were only 68 people left."
Editor: David Green