Much of the media commentary on Matt Baggott’s decision to resign as PSNI Chief Constable has missed the real issue that arises.
The point is not who will become the next chief constable, but how, Matt Baggott’s successor will engage with the remaining challenges in policing here.
Huge work has been done to advance real change at senior and local command levels of the PSNI, within the Policing Board and also through local policing partnerships. But the fact is the historic experience of ‘policing’ for many in this state was bad, and today still falls short of what policing in a post-conflict society should look like.
Matt Baggott did make a contribution in taking the PSNI forward, but he lost the confidence of republicans and nationalists.
He didn’t get to grips with the residual culture and influence of the political policing ‘dark side’ within the PSNI.
That failing contributed directly to the practice of ‘retire and rehire’, weakening the firewall between democratic policing and negative role of British intelligence agencies, which crystallised in the report exposing the Historic Enquiries Team’s activities; and his bad judgement on, for example, the Ombudsman’s McGurk’s Bar report.
Policing in the north is wrapped up with the past. It was inseparable from the context of political conflict here. However, a new beginning to policing is essential for the future. Those tasked with leadership in policing carry a huge responsibility to demonstrate independence and effectiveness.
The PSNI has shown that it can serve as an agent of change. There is more work to be done within it and all policing structures to maximise community confidence, and democratic accountability.
Who becomes the new chief constable is secondary to his/her commitment to continued reform.
The next PSNI chief constable must be a courageous champion for change.