Three south Belfast police stations are cutting back on opening hours in order to free up more officers to carry out frontline duties.
And the decision has been welcomed by local politician and District Policing Partnership (DPP) member, Councillor Bob Stoker.
The changes, to be introduced on April 5, affect Lisburn Road, Donegall Pass and Ballynafeigh PSNI bases.
Both Lisburn Road and Donegall Pass enquiry offices will be closed between midnight and 7am, although phone calls will be diverted and answered elsewhere within the south Belfast district.
However, police stress they will continue to respond to anyone arriving with an emergency, as both stations plan to have 24-hour security personnel on duty.
Ballynafeigh enquiry office is to open on Mondays between 9am and 11am, on Wednesdays between 6pm and 8pm and on Fridays between midday and 2pm.
The station currently receives few calls from members of the public and in future will be staffed exclusively by local Neighbourhood Officers.
In a statement, the PSNI said changes in south Belfast and others proposed for east Belfast would release up to 10 officers who could be deployed in response or community roles.
Acting District Commander, Superintendent Chris Noble, said the aim of the changes was to maximise resources.
“Members of the public constantly tell us that they want more police officers back on the beat to respond to the crimes that matter to them the most — anti-social behaviour, burglaries, car crime etc,” he said.
“This is about ensuring that we have the right people in the right places at the right time.
“It will not mean a reduction in service. People can still report crime and incidents via 999, the non-emergency number 0845 600 8000, or by going to the stations in an emergency.
“We are responding to local communities’ wishes to increase their ease of contact with police by having more officers on the ground who can respond directly to their needs and increase police visibility.”
Senior officers in south Belfast met with DPP representatives recently to brief them on the proposals.
A decision on the necessary changes was then taken and the new arrangements will be reviewed after 12 months.
Councillor Bob Stoker welcomed the proposed changes and commended the police for being “proactive” in the decision.
“Evidence shows that the vast majority of people actually phone a police station — as a rule they generally don’t call in personally — so it’s a better use of resources and I believe that is to be welcomed,” he said.
“Resources can now be directed to frontline services, so officers can be seen out and about where the community want them to be.”
Research and analysis into the average number of people calling into south Belfast police stations was carried out during January and February of this year and revealed:
- Lisburn Road (between 11pm and 7am) — less than one person every other night;
- Donegall Pass (between 11pm and 7am) — less than one person every night;
- Ballynafeigh (24-hour period) — less than two callers.
The average number of phone calls to the enquiry offices was also analysed between the hours of 11pm and 7am and results were as follows:
- Lisburn Road — three calls per hour;
- Donegall Road — less than two calls per hour;
- Ballynafeigh (during a 24-hour period) — one call every two hours.
Under the new arrangements these calls will now be handled by the District Call Management Centre which will provide professional assistance.
Police also plan to develop neighbourhood surgeries in the future to strengthen relationships with the community.