Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 16 September 2014

£26,000 price of police discussions

Assistant Chief Constable George Hamilton says the event wiill help create a greater understanding of the policing position within communities

Private talks between police and community leaders this weekend will cost an estimated £26,000, the PSNI has revealed.

Six senior police officers and 28 others, including unelected community representatives from flashpoint areas of north and east Belfast are being flown to a four-star hotel in Cardiff for two days of intensive dialogue aimed at re-building fractured relationships with the PSNI.

Assistant Chief Constable George Hamilton, who will be heading up the PSNI delegation, said: "We spend millions of pounds every year policing disorder. That is just the policing cost - it's not the cost of adverse impacts in terms of investment or tourism.

"So, it makes sense to go for this engagement to try to minimise the risk and to provide a greater understanding of the policing position within communities. And, so the police can have a greater understanding of the communities perspectives."

The Cardiff initiative is being facilitated by academics from the University of Ulster and the Stanford University in the United States. Costs will be split between the PSNI and Northern Ireland Office although there will be no NIO representation at the event.

It follows serious trouble in Belfast over Christmas and the New Year after Belfast City Council's decision to restrict the flying of the Union flags to designated days. Security chiefs are also increasingly worried about the prospect of further civil unrest linked to disputed parades close to loyalist and nationalist interface areas.

To date, the policing bill for Operation Dulcet, which was launched in the wake of the Union flag dispute, has reached £23 million and rioting over the Twelfth of July last year cost the PSNI about £11 million.

Police tactics during public disorder and house searches, their response to Union flags protests and the policing of parades will top the agenda in Cardiff. However officers have insisted the meetings are not intended to resolve big ticket issues such as flags and parades.

Mr Hamilton said: "This is about the police response to all of that rather than the issues themselves."

Assistant Chief Constable Will Kerr and Chief Superintendent Mark Hamilton will be in Wales joined by Chief Superintendents Alan McCrum, George Clarke and Mark McCune, the PSNI commanders for Belfast. Invitations were also sent to representatives from all the main political parties.

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