Fears for future of PSNI Auto Crime Team set up to tackle joyriding
Concern has been raised over the future of a special Auto Crime Team set up by the PSNI to tackle joyriding in west Belfast.
It is feared that the team may have to be disbanded because of budget pressures.
However, the PSNI has insisted there are no current plans to withdraw the unit.
The team, which has been operating for the past eight years across west Belfast and Lisburn, has helped reduce vehicle-related crime by 75%.
Police in west Belfast launched a public consultation process into the future of the team, amid concerns that it faced being disbanded.
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"I would be extremely concerned if the Auto Crime Team was to go, but I do suspect it could be under threat because of the budget pressures," said Policing Board member Jonathan Craig.
"This team has undoubtedly saved lives. I would have real concerns about any cutbacks around this, and the message that would send out," the DUP MLA added.
However, PSNI Chief Inspector Anthony McNally, the area commander for west Belfast, said: "At this point and time there is no consideration of not having the Auto Crime Team."
The unit is currently involved in a new police operation to tackle a rise in hijackings, car thefts and joyriding incidents across Belfast, with particular focus on the Divis area of the lower Falls Road.
"We still have our dedicated auto crime team in the area who are obviously looking at where car crime is happening. They are briefed every day in relation to vehicles that we know are stolen, those that we believe to be involved in that and where we have been having problems over the last week," said Mr McNally.
He added: "That is what they are very much paying attention and focus to in terms of detecting those committing these crime types in those areas."
There has been an increase in hijacking incidents across Belfast in recent weeks.
On Friday, four female drivers were targeted in separate car hijacking attempts in Belfast city centre.