The officer in charge of Northern Ireland’s riot police has said that public disorder on the streets of the province will never be policed the “militaristic” way seen in many European countries.
Chief Inspector Graham Dodds insisted that the PSNI is a world leader in public order policing because officers hold the line rather than push forward and immediately scoop up the rioters.
Often following incidents of serious disorder the public has raised questions over why officers stood back rather than moving in to make arrests.
However, Mr Dodds said that to copy a country like Greece — where officers were recently seen charging into crowds using tear gas, pepper spray and flashbang grenades — would be “awful” and “counterproductive”.
“In European countries they surround the entire demonstration with lots of police who maybe aren’t as well equipped or trained as us and just do administrative detention where they just arrest everybody. In a lot of countries public order policing is very much militaristic, very much about force and dominance. I think any short-term success of that long-term would be very bad for policing,” said Mr Dodds.
He added: “We have a duty of care to rioters. I am not being soft here — we will be firm, we will use appropriate measures but we will not be reckless. We are the best at this because our public order policing is community policing.”
Mr Dodds admitted that to hold the line may not be “the quick fix the public wants”, but said that to rush in could prove dangerous.
“I know the public want us to go in and arrest 200 people. But if you look at it, where would we put 200 people? You wouldn’t have enough officers to do that at that time,” he said.
But the PSNI is “exceptional” at evidence-gathering and the rioters will end up before the courts eventually, said Mr Dodds.
“There is sometimes a lot more satisfaction arresting in our time. When we come knocking at your door at 4am in the morning to arrest you, that brings the consequences home to you and your family,” he explained.
On Monday, in the Belfast Telegraph, riot police officers explained how frightening it can be on the front line while under attack.
“It takes a lot to stand in a line and get pounded with petrol bombs. This summer in Ardoyne in one night we got hit with petrol bombs, blast bombs and 17 rounds were fired. Yet none of my officers flinched.
“Despite the fact they were under automatic gunfire, officers still held the line,” said Mr Dodds.
During serious rioting the officers wear protective clothing, weighing four stone, but that does not make them invincible, the Chief Inspector added.
“The kit might make us look a bit more distant but there are human beings inside. We still have wives, husbands, children, brothers, sisters, parents. We are not supermen and superwomen,” he said.
Mr Dodds added: “If you attack us, then when your mum or dad or brother or sister need us we might not be there. We are not the enemy.”