Belfast Telegraph

Monday 20 October 2014

DebateNI home of Northern Ireland politics

Matt Baggott is the 'right man at the right time'... but he needs political back-up

PSNI Chief Constable Matt Baggott - 'the right man at the right time'... but he needs political back-up
PSNI Chief Constable Matt Baggott - 'the right man at the right time'... but he needs political back-up

Matt Baggott clearly wants a more holistic approach to policing from our politicians. That is one where they concentrate on the big picture, aims and objectives, rather than the fine grain of individual arrests and attacks.

He fairly exploded when I reminded him that the DUP and the First Minister had been in contact about attacks on Orange halls in Coleraine.

He deplored the attacks. "A disgrace" he called them, but, he protested, "actually this is a government, this is an Executive" and its leaders should be concentrating on what he called "strategic, big ticket issues" when they meet him.

Mr Baggott is a man, quite literally, with a mission to help improve policing here. A born again Christian, he genuinely believes that God means him to be here at this moment. He talks passionately about areas like Ballymacarrett where he recently walked over 50 yards of broken glass as well as the Creggan and the Shankill.

"This is the big ticket stuff," he insists, stressing the need to plan resources and responses with political leaders. "Why aren't they asking me questions about how I can improve accountability even further? This is the big stuff that they need to be grappling with when they speak to the chief constable."

When Matt Baggott came here four years ago he was hailed as an apostle of community policing. That was his reputation in Leicester, the multiracial city where he last led a police force and where he was universally popular.

He has pushed ahead with community efforts, but he also had to hit the ground running and grapple with an escalating terrorist threat.

"We were too optimistic too soon" he now concedes, but he was a quick learner.

He squeezed resources out of a shrinking police force by cutting down on the number of officers in desk jobs.

After the devolution of policing and justice he and the Executive, which for once talked with a single voice, pounded the corridors of Whitehall until they got £245m, spread over four years, to boost anti terrorist policing.

It paid for new Land Rovers, protective equipment and surveillance technology. It helped turn the tide, so far at least, on the dissident campaign and it freed up resources to meet local community needs.

That is a rare example of joined up thinking from police and politicians. We need more of it, not grandstanding by political leaders who complain about individual arrests.

During the G8 he also pioneered mutual aid, training more than a thousand officers from British forces in our methods and problems just in time for summer marching disputes.

Whether God called him or not, Matt Baggott was clearly the right man at the right time.

His reticence about staying on after his contract expires next August is understandable, but politicians need to think twice about losing him.

If he leaves on bad terms, it will reflect more on the local political leadership than on him. And a suitably qualified successor from outside the ranks of the PSNI may be hard to find.

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