The body that represents rank and file police officers has described a visit by the Chief Constable to the border town of Crossmaglen, during which over 20 extra officers were drafted in, as “not a true picture of what is happening on the ground”.
The Police Federation said that Matt Baggott's visit to Crossmaglen last month was an attempt to assure the public that it was not a lawless area, but added that he needed helicopter cover and “a couple of dozen” extra police officers for protection.
Mr Baggott became the first serving Chief Constable in Northern Ireland to patrol the streets of the border town in south Armagh where there has been an upsurge in dissident republican attacks. Because of the “severe” terrorist threat, community policing in south Armagh presents a number of challenges for officers on the ground.
The PSNI has insisted, however, that there are no “no go zones” for officers and that all parts of Northern Ireland were policed.
Mr Baggott’s visit to Crossmaglen was described as a fact-finding mission and, according to him, his way of “saying thank you” to the people of the area.
The Police Federation described it as an attempt by Mr Baggott “to assure the general public that the rule of law ran freely throughout Northern Ireland”.
The federation added, however: “If your visit requires helicopter cover and a couple of dozen extra police officers for protection then the claim can be made. But that is not a true picture of what is happening on the ground.”
In its monthly publication, Police Beat, the federation said that the PSNI must recognise “the enduring nature and utter ruthlessness of the terrorists” and warned that much of the current terrorist activity, particularly in rural areas, is to lure officers into traps and “lull them into a vulnerable complacency”.
“The lesson for the police service is to recognise the enduring nature and utter ruthlessness of the terrorists, that no matter how few in number they may be, it requires enormous police resources and 24-hour vigilance by officers to stay safe and for civic normality to be maintained,” the union said.
“In the past few weeks we have had attacks on stations, several officers have been intimidated out of their homes and, of all places, Palace Barracks has been bombed.”
The federation called on Justice Minister David Ford to launch a review of the security situation. “The dissidents may be pulling ‘stunts’ but we need to respond with a policy which is a lot more robust than with perceived stunts of our own.”
The Northern Ireland Office was also criticised by the federation for its response to the terrorist threat.
“The security situation in Northern Ireland is, to say the least, difficult. In fact, saying the least about it seems to be the guideline being followed by the NIO.”