Extra police on streets of Belfast, but cuts loom
The PSNI has doubled its resources in Belfast city centre at night to deal with Christmas revellers.
In a bid to keep the streets safe and violence-free, officers are swamping the city during peak party times on Friday and Saturday nights.
The enhanced 'Get Home Safe' operation was launched last weekend and officers have been targeting the hot-spot party areas such as the Cathedral Quarter, Shaftesbury Square and the Odyssey where trouble could potentially flare due to the high concentration of bars.
In the early hours of the morning officers have increased patrols in "vulnerable corridors" like back streets and poorly lit areas to try and reduce the risk of violent attack or sexual assault on anyone making their way home alone.
The enhanced operation involves neighbourhood and response officers and is in place every Friday and Saturday night throughout December.
"We have almost doubled the amount of police out on patrol. There is almost triple the footfall in the city centre throughout December so we need more officers out and about to respond to that. We have to maximise our presence," said south Belfast commander, Chief Inspector Robert Murdie.
"The operation is intelligence-led and we concentrate on identified hot-spot areas where we believe there could potentially be trouble. This is about trying to nip things in the bud," Mr Murdie added.
This type of operation is launched at other times of the year when large influxes of party-goers are expected in the city centre, such as St Patrick's Day, Halloween and Tennents Vital. However, there is concern that future visible policing operations in the city centre may be greatly reduced due to the PSNI's financial pressures.
Chief Constable George Hamilton has warned that visible policing will be particularly vulnerable.
"Budget cuts are going to change the face of policing. We may not be able to have that degree of proactivity that we currently have," he said.
"This type of operation needs high numbers and could therefore be affected in the future. We will have to concentrate even more on partnership work with the likes of security staff, the SOS Bus, street pastors and the council," he added.
During the first night of the policing operation there were six assaults and two incidents of disorderly behaviour. Three people were arrested.