Police enquiry offices closures 'inevitable step on road to further cuts' as PSNI encourage online reports of crime
Just one police station will be open 24/7
Planned closures of six PSNI enquiry offices and reduced opening hours across stations in Northern Ireland have been described as the "first inevitable step on the road to further cuts".
It comes as police chiefs in Northern Ireland said they are planning cuts of around £20 million from next month because of the current political instability.
The uncertainty has left the PSNI facing a 3% budget reduction, the force said.
Announcing the closures on Monday police said the "evolving digital footprint" means people no longer need to visit police station enquiry offices as often and are reporting general crimes online.
They said that advances in technology have made it possible for PSNI to deliver new ways of reporting crime, filling out official forms and engaging with officers.
The PSNI announced they would be reducing from 36 to 30 the number of Station Enquiry Offices from April 3 - they are Antrim Road (Belfast), Ballycastle, Ballymoney, Carrickfergus, Portadown and Newcastle.
New opening hours will be implemented in the majority of the remaining offices.
The only police station that will be open 24 hours a day will be Musgrave in Belfast.
The PSNI said from April 1 2016 to December 29 2016 a total of 396,561 incidents were recorded on the Command and Control system.
Police said 6.39% of these (25,486) were recorded as having originated at police stations which equates to an average of 2.6 reports per day at station enquiry offices.
They are now directing people to their website - www.psni.police.uk.
Assistant Chief Constable Alan Todd said: “People are choosing to contact us in a different way and we want to deliver what they want, in the way they have chosen while maintaining our frontline service.
“Since the launch of our new website in February 2016 (up to 8 February 2017) more than 445,000 people have visited the site, with more than 1.5 million page views. More than 17,000 people have visited our online crime reporting page. Our social media following grew by 211,305 followers in 2016 and we regularly reach more than 2 million people per week with our social media posts.
“Digital access is what the public have chosen and, in this environment of changing public need and police resources, this is how we are designing for the future and providing best value for public money.
“Enquiry offices were conceived before the digital age however we appreciate that there are some services that require face to face interaction. When considering the changes to station enquiry opening hours we looked at demand and peak use to ensure the impact on the public is kept to a minimum.”
However, Mark Lindsay, the Chairman of the Police Federation for Northern Ireland which represents rank and file officers, said "there is no substitute for face-to-face interaction".
Mr Lindsay said: “We’ve seen Neighbourhood Policing devastated by a series of draconian budget cuts and this is one further step on that road. As budgets continue to be slashed, there will be radical decisions taken by the PSNI which will force communities to think differently about the role of the PSNI and how they interact with the public.
“This latest development has the potential to restrict access to Police Officers which will reduce levels of engagement. The danger is we will become a more remote Service, unable to provide required levels of visibility and reassurance to people in need.
“Inevitably, there will be further cuts as the Service deals with the loss of up to £20 million in its budget. That will impact adversely across the board.
“We’re already seriously under-strength and I expect that situation to worsen as hundreds of Officers take up retirement entitlement's over the next two years.”
From April 3 2017 new opening hours for enquiry offices will be implemented across Northern Ireland, with the exception of Musgrave Station.
Station enquiry offices will be open from 11am to 7pm, Monday to Friday. Strand Road enquiry office in Derry/Londonderry will be open from 9am to 9pm, Monday to Friday and 12 noon to 8pm on Saturday and Sunday. Musgrave enquiry office in Belfast will remain open 24/7.
All enquiry offices, with the exception of Musgrave, will close between 3pm and 3.30pm for lunch.
Services available at station enquiry offices include administrative activities such as producing driving documents, paying warrant fines, Foreign Students registration or signing bail.
List of Police Stations in Northern Ireland with enquiry offices
Musgrave – 24/7
Woodbourne – 11am to 7pm, Monday to Friday
Strandtown – 11am to 7pm, Monday to Friday
Lisburn Road – 11am to 7pm, Monday to Friday
Tennent Street – 11am to 7pm, Monday to Friday
Bangor – 11am to 7pm, Monday to Friday
Newtownards – 11am to 7pm, Monday to Friday
Downpatrick – 11am to 7pm, Monday to Friday
Lisburn – 11am to 7pm, Monday to Friday
Armagh – 11am to 7pm, Monday to Friday
Banbridge – 11am to 7pm, Monday to Friday
Lurgan – 11am to 7pm, Monday to Friday
Newry – 11am to 7pm, Monday to Friday
Cookstown – 11am to 7pm, Monday to Friday
Dungannon – 11am to 7pm, Monday to Friday
Enniskillen – 11am to 7pm, Monday to Friday
Lisnaskea – 11am to 7pm, Monday to Friday
Omagh – 11am to 7pm, Monday to Friday
Magherafelt – 11am to 7pm, Monday to Friday
Crossmaglen – limited opening hours
Newtownhamilton – limited opening hours
Strand Road – 9am to 9pm, Monday to Friday, and 12 noon to 8pm, Saturday and Sunday
Waterside – 11am to 7pm, Monday to Friday
Limavady – 11am to 7pm, Monday to Friday
Strabane – 11am to 7pm, Monday to Friday
Ballymena – 11am to 7pm, Monday to Friday
Coleraine – 11am to 7pm, Monday to Friday
Larne – 11am to 7pm, Monday to Friday
Newtownabbey – 11am to 7pm, Monday to Friday
Strabane – 11am to 7pm, Monday to Friday
Antrim – 11am to 7pm, Monday to Friday