Chief Constable Matt Baggott has vowed that dissident republican terrorists will not bully him into changing his plans for a peace-time police force in Northern Ireland.
In his first in-depth interview since taking up his post, Mr Baggott told the Belfast Telegraph that nothing will distract the PSNI from forging ahead with the transformation of an “out-of-date system” and rolling out normalisation of policing.
The Chief Constable also said:
- He will not contemplate bringing back the military but will seek assistance from constabularies in England, Wales and the Republic if necessary.
- There are enough resources to deal with both terrorism and everyday crime.
- The dissident threat will not put people — even young Catholics — off joining the PSNI.
“Nothing will distract us from doing this. We are not going to run away and hide, we are going to isolate these bullies and make sure the community has a voice,” Mr Baggott said.
He added: “I have no problems with dissident republicanism, I have no problem with people having a view that is completely contrary to mine. What I do have a problem with is their use of violence, which is just meant to intimidate and take people back to a day when the streets were full of the Army.
“I have a problem when these people try to stop my colleagues doing things that really matter — protecting children, giving victims reassurance, going to road traffic accidents and making sure that people that can’t breathe are given mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. I don’t have a problem with viewpoints, I have a problem when bullies are given too much space.”
Even if the security situation deteriorates further, Mr Baggott said “the very last place” he would go “would be to have the military back on the streets”, and instead said investigation teams could be drafted in from other police forces, including the Garda. He said he was studying policing arrangements in border states in Europe to discover how he can step up mutual aid arrangements with other police forces and described the border as “artificial” in policing terms.
“I’m not saying we would have the Garda coming here policing alongside PSNI officers.
“But wouldn’t it be great if one day the border became less symbolic, if actually we had Garda and PSNI officers policing both sides of the border under European agreement?
“The border is an artificial thing. If I lived down there (border areas) I would probably be less hung-up on the sensitivities providing my family were being looked after. We shouldn’t let politics stand in the way of doing what really matters to the families that live in that particular area.”
One of Mr Baggott’s first moves to normalise policing was the axing of the full-time reserve, a decision that sparked anger among some politicians and the Police Federation. Mr Baggott said, however, that following weeks of conversations with politicians they are beginning to understand his views on the way forward for policing in Northern Ireland, particularly the freeing up of 600 desk-bound officers.
He added: “What is very clear is that people react very quickly to something they might not understand. We have spent hours going through the reasons we are doing it, the complexities of what we are trying to achieve and now we have had some fantastic reactions from all sides to say ‘actually, what they are doing is right.’”
The terrorist threat is undoubtedly making some officers nervous, but Mr Baggott said he does not believe it will have a negative impact on future PSNI recruitment as there is “a huge surge of desire to be part of a really positive story”.
“The PSNI’s personal, professional identity inspires people to join. There are dangers, but actually sometimes danger creates more of a desire to challenge it”, he added.
PSNI statistics show that in the 2007/08 financial year, when the terrorist threat had really begun to rise, there was an increase in a large number of non-terrorist related crimes such as burglaries, robberies and thefts. Mr Baggott insists he has enough resources to deal with both, particularly with the freeing-up of 600 desk-bound officers in the next year.
‘Wouldn’t it be great if one day the border became less symbolic’
“I would much prefer if those officers (dealing with terrorist crimes) were protecting the elderly from burglaries. I’d much prefer they were patrolling in our most vulnerable communities, reassuring people, than dealing with bullies. I am never going to say we have got a handle on everything, because we haven’t. But I believe we have the resources to deal with both.
“I am not going to accept high levels of serious harm, I am not going to accept high levels of burglaries or robberies or low detection rates because of the security situation, it is not acceptable.”