Belfast residents police streets to catch burglars as PSNI faces £40.5m cutbacks
A group of residents claim they have been forced to police their own streets to catch burglars because of concerns the PSNI no longer has the resources to cope.
Following reports of break-ins at a number of properties in north Belfast this week, residents have organised nightly patrols in a bid to apprehend the criminals.
The revelation came as the Chief Constable warned that the policing budget is facing further cuts this year of up to £40.5m - on top of almost £250m over the past five years.
George Hamilton told the Northern Ireland Policing Board yesterday that on a daily basis, police officers and staff have to make difficult decisions about resources and where to deploy them.
North Belfast community worker Stephen Andrews warned that due to policing cuts, residents in the area had "no choice" but to patrol their own streets.
He claimed that in one recent incident it took officers five hours to respond to an emergency call after a burglar was spotted fleeing the scene. "The police just don't have the resources anymore. Residents shouldn't have to police their own streets, but that's what they are having to do to protect their homes," said Mr Andrews, a member of the Greater Shankill Community Network. "A lot of elderly people live in the area and they are feeling particularly frightened inside their homes. Residents have decided that as the police aren't able to keep watch for burglars then they will," he added.
Residents have also used social media to circulate their own CCTV images of burglary suspects caught on private camera outside a house in the Alliance Avenue area on Tuesday morning.
"I know people would see it as vigilantism but it's not. These are just local residents, not attached to anything at all. They just need to protect their homes and their livelihoods. If they do come across a burglar during the patrols we tell people to ring the police right away.
"We shouldn't have to accept that this is the way things are going to have to be. I believe the police need more resources, especially in an interface area like ours. There is a real nervousness in the area about the reduced number of officers on the ground and the response times. In one case this week police didn't come to the scene of a break-in for five hours. By that stage the burglar had escaped," said Mr Andrews.
"Residents are putting themselves in harms way to protect their community and their properties. Now we are hearing about even more police cuts. How is that going to manifest itself on the ground? It is very worrying."
The Chief Constable yesterday insisted that the PSNI would "not be walking away from protecting vulnerable people".
"On a daily basis, police officers and staff have to make difficult decisions about resources. I have been very clear about our purpose; we are here to keep people safe - that is to protect the most vulnerable, tackle harm in our communities and to bring offenders to justice."
Chief Inspector David Shanks said: "Investigating domestic and commercial burglaries is a major priority for police in north Belfast and throughout Northern Ireland. We understand the effect these crimes have on the communities.
"Neighbourhood police officers are committed to working in partnership with local communities to address any concerns and we would ask anyone who has any information regarding crime to contact police.
"Police would caution any individual against taking the law into their own hands. Those who do may themselves commit offences and may subsequently be liable to prosecution."