New PSNI Chief Constable George Hamilton upbeat as daunting July looms
New Chief Constable George Hamilton has insisted he is confident in the PSNI's ability to deal with this year's marching season.
On his first day at the helm of the PSNI Mr Hamilton admitted that this month will be "hugely challenging", but said he was hopeful that police will not have to use force to enforce determinations made by the Parades Commission.
He said he would prefer "to be helping people to express their traditions and express their desire to protest" as long as it did not end up with officers using force.
"My responsibility is to keep people safe. There are a variety of challenges that come our way around that.
"The parade issue is one. Obviously we are just starting off in July here and that will be hugely challenging, but I am absolutely assured and confident in the ability of the organisation which I now lead to deal with all of this," he said.
Mr Hamilton added: "But I actually don't want to get to the stage where police are having to use force to enforce Parades Commission determinations
"We will uphold the law. We want to work with communities, we want to engage with people so that those who want to parade within the law can do so peacefully and those who want to protest can do so, as long as that is peaceful."
The Chief Constable also warned dissident republican terrorists "who are anti-peace, want to inflict injury and death, want to deprive the communities of their well being and who want to take jobs out of the economy" that the PSNI will be doing everything they can to "thwart their activities and to keep people safe".
Mr Hamilton's first public engagement as Chief Constable took place at the Farset Centre on the Springfield Road in west Belfast, close to an interface.
He also attended a seminar at the centre, run by Northern Ireland Alternatives and Community Restorative Justice Ireland, which aimed to look at ways of working with the PSNI and using restorative interventions to keep young people out of the criminal justice system.
He then went to a private meeting with the Policing Board.
Terry Spence, chairman of the Police Federation, said that the safety and security of officers has to be a major priority for the new Chief Constable.
He added that he was particularly concerned that the PSNI was "1,000 officers below strength" and was "badly stretched".
Top cop keen to reach out to communities
George Hamilton is a big man with a big personality — but he won’t be giving out big hugs.
The new Chief Constable was full of jokes and smiles as he attended his first public engagement yesterday morning at the Farset Centre in west Belfast, where he spoke at a seminar on community restorative justice.
He told those in attendance that he wanted the PSNI to be more answerable to communities and to make decisions in partnership with them.
He then hastily added: “I’m not saying we have a hug every time we have to make a prickly decision.” A relaxed looking Mr Hamilton arrived 30 minutes late to his first public engagement.
Policing Board chairwoman Anne Connolly joked he was behind schedule because he had to fix his uniform under her |orders.
Mr Hamilton said he was aware that although confidence in the police had risen considerably, there were still challenging areas where “a deficit in confidence in policing” remained.
The Bangor man, who has been a police officer for 29 years, said it was important to “get back to fundamentals” in order to address that confidence gap.
“When I joined the police we were taught what courtesy was all about... we have to treat people with courtesy, respect and fairness,” he said.
Several times Mr Hamilton spoke about the need to be answerable to communities and to share more information with them.
And showing that he is a man prepared to practise what he preaches, he is the first PSNI Chief Constable to use Twitter.
His first tweet, along with a podcast, was sent out yesterday morning with the greeting “First day in the new job and first tweet ... keep following for updates”.
In his address to the seminar, Mr Hamilton said he wanted to “help build a safe, confident and peaceful society” which can only be done through community partnership.
Acknowledging that he was in for a bumpy ride as Chief Constable, he joked that it may not be long before he regretted convincing the Policing Board to give him the top job.