Sinn Fein’s involvement in policing structures has been instrumental in addressing nationalist mistrust of the PSNI in the north west, a senior officer has said.
Chief Superintendent Stephen Martin said he recognised there were still “many people who live within Derry who do have a history of mistrusting police”.
But he said he understood the importance of delivering a policing service which increasingly allowed people to set that mistrust aside.
“I know when we make mistakes and get things wrong they can have a greater significance here,” he said.
“Therefore it is important we are as consistent as possible in terms of our service delivery and that when people engage with policing they come away feeling they have been afforded respect and the dignity they deserve.”
Mr Martin was speaking as he outlined the changes he has witnessed in policing since his own time as an RUC constable in Londonderry in the 1980s and the creation of the PSNI 10 years ago.
Mr Martin said he was striving to ensure policing in the future is seen as a normal public service similar to education and health services — but admitted his goal was still some way off.
Mr Martin said Sinn Fein’s shift on policing had had a huge impact on nationalist acceptance of the PSNI.
“I think Sinn Fein’s involvement on the Policing Board and District Policing Partnership has been very significant in helping people in a community in a place such as Derry, who hold a legacy of mis
trust of policing, in moving forward towards an acceptance of policing.
“Sinn Fein are very influential within the broad nationalist and republican community which makes up the majority of the community I police in this city, so their endorsement of policing has been very important and continues to be very important.”
Mr Martin said the day-to-day work of the police had changed dramatically since the 1980s, when police had to travel in convoys of three vehicles — two police and one military — and travel in groups of 10 to 12.
“Thankfully today I’ve officers travelling about in single vehicles, foot patrols, a much smaller number of people involved than in the 1980s. This reflects the changing security environment.
“I now speak on a very regular basis with people who at one time would have seen me as a legitimate target and who I would have seen as a terrorist — yet today we enjoy constructive and cordial working relationships.
“I’m not saying those relationships are cosy, in fact they can often be challenging, but they they are nevertheless constructive and forward-thinking.”
He said that as he reflected back over 10 years it was important to remember the “sacrifice” of officers Ronan Kerr and Steven Carroll and the injuries inflicted on Peadar Heffron in a booby-trap attack.
“I am very proud of the PSNI, very proud of what it has achieved over the past 10 years,” he said.
He added: “I believe that some day we will arrive at a point where policing is seen through a very similar lens as it would be in Dublin, in Cork, in Norwich or in Edinburgh.”
As G District Commander, Stephen Martin currently presides over 700 PSNI officers and staff in the Derry, Strabane, Limavady and Magherafelt council areas.
He served as a constable in Derry from 1986 to 1992 before returning to lead G District several years ago.