Belfast Telegraph

Friday 11 July 2014

DebateNI home of Northern Ireland politics

Over-stretched PSNI faces a shortage of 500 officers

An injured police officer is helped by colleagues after clashing with loyalists
An injured police officer is helped by colleagues after clashing with loyalists

A battered and bruised PSNI could be 500 officers short of what it needs by 2015, the Belfast Telegraph has been told.

The news comes after months of street violence and with Police Federation chairman Terry Spence again calling for urgent help.

His latest intervention comes as the Policing Board, NIO and Department of Justice study an internal Review of Resilience and Capability commissioned by Chief Constable Matt Baggott.

That review has been looking at police numbers and operational demands and how they fit with budgets. The detailed study has identified gaps.

Indeed, there are fears that as early as 2015 the PSNI could be some 500 officers short of the near 7,000 it needs.

Gaps have been filled by mutual aid arrangements, bringing in hundreds of extra officers from other UK forces at critical moments. This was for the G8 summit and the Twelfth marching period, however it is an expensive but short-term option, not carrying all the costs of long-term recruitment.

"You can pick a figure to recruit, but you need the money," one source said – meaning that in today's tight economic climate it is easier said than done.

Against the backdrop of the recent riots, the battle over police numbers is becoming a public row playing out on radio, television and in the newspapers.

But the PSNI at its most senior ranks will be reluctant to become involved until it has some clearer indication of responses to the Resilience and Capability Review.

More immediately, it has another difficult policing operation to mount this weekend in Belfast, putting officers in lines between a republican parade and loyalist protest.

Yesterday Mr Spence revealed that he had written to the Chief Constable calling for 1,000 new officers to be recruited.

"It's PSNI officers who are holding the fabric of society together here in Northern Ireland," he said.

"I've spoken to a lot of officers who were injured on the front line. Because of fatigue in some cases and burnout, combined with the injuries, many are seeking and have received psychological and psychiatric counselling."

Since December 3, 2012 Mr Spence said there had been 451 police officers injured. The rate of attrition which police officers are suffering is the reason why he has called upon the Chief Constable for an urgent boost in recruitment.

He said: "Many of them are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. Some officers have been discharged from the service as a result of their injuries with their careers brought to an abrupt end."

The PSNI currently has 6,900 officers compared to the 12,500 it had 12 years ago, and yesterday Mr Spence called for 1,000 new officers to be recruited to help meet the coming challenges.

He said: "The overall point is that we are grossly under-resourced. The Chief Constable has underscored that by bringing a thousand officers from England, Scotland and Wales for the parading season – that alone shows you that we are under-resourced and that it can't go on."

A spokeswoman for the Department of Justice said: "The Justice Minister David Ford meets on a regular basis with the Chief Constable and the issue of resourcing is regularly reviewed."

A spokeswoman for the Northern Ireland Policing board said: "Members are particularly concerned about the costs being consumed by public order policing and the levels of injuries sustained by officers in the course of their duty." Ulster Unionist justice spokesman Tom Elliott backed Mr Spence's plea for extra police and called for the full-time reverse to be brought back.

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