Belfast Telegraph

Ex-police staff to have '200 limit'

Matt Baggott has defended his decision to continue rehiring ex-officers through agencies but said he would limit their number to 200 in the future.

The chief constable said he understood the political sensitivities on the issue of retired policemen and women, some from the Royal Ulster Constabulary era, returning to the Police Service of Northern Ireland on short-term contracts.

The region's most senior officer said he is confident proposed changes to the employment contracts of so-called associate staff would address concerns voiced by nationalist politicians that they are not subject to the same oversight as serving officers.

It is envisaged redrawn contracts could include a commitment to support Police Ombudsman investigations and adhere to a code of conduct similar to the police's.

But Mr Baggott said tight budget constraints facing the PSNI meant he had no option other than to rely on agency staff in the coming years, instead of recruiting full-time officers on long-term salaries.

The police spends £16 million a year employing agency workers, many of whom are former officers. There are currently more than 300 ex-policemen and women working in the PSNI. The police have faced criticism after claims some officers returned to service shortly after retiring with a hefty financial settlement.

"I don't think we will get to the point where we don't have to have in the near future some police officers being re-employed through agencies because they are the specific skills the agency needs," said the chief constable.

"Trying to bring the threat level (from dissidents) down requires experienced investigators, and the point I make to people - I understand the sensitivities around this, I absolutely do - but if you had a problem in a hospital and you needed operating theatre staff you wouldn't bring back a Kwik Fit mechanic, would you?

"The people coming back are people of integrity and are being held accountable and we are not reversing the Patten reforms (peace process police reforms) but ultimately the number of people I anticipate at most being retained with policing skills through agency employment will be less than 2% of the entire organisation, so very small numbers: a limit of about 200 but I suspect it will be less."

Mr Baggott said the accountability issues raised could be addressed, adding: "You can build into their contracts certain requirements around perhaps willingly supporting ombudsman investigations or the contracts reflect our own code of ethics. So just because people aren't necessarily police officers, you can still build in accountability in a way that is reassuring to the public and politicians alike."

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