Belfast Telegraph

Police face 'dire' situation as 238 officers to be axed in Northern Ireland

By Cate McCurry

The head of the association representing rank-and-file police in Northern Ireland has called a reduction in PSNI numbers of more than 200 officers over the next two years a "frightening prospect" that will have "dire consequences".

Mark Lindsay, chairman of the Police Federation for Northern Ireland, described the cuts as unacceptable and dangerous.

"This is a frightening prospect," he said.

The federation is seeking an urgent meeting with the Chief Constable "to see what, if anything, can be done to head off what undoubtedly will be a crisis in policing in Northern Ireland".

He was speaking after Chief Constable George Hamilton announced that the PSNI faces a £20 million cut in funds this year - the equivalent of the annual cost of all the its Neighbourhood Policing Teams.

Mr Hamilton warned that the PSNI was now at the point "where it is no longer possible to absorb budget cuts without impacting directly on police officer numbers".

Over the next year officer numbers will drop by 138 to 6,700. In the following year levels will fall to 6,600, Mr Hamilton said.

In 2014 a review of strength levels concluded that a minimum of 7,000 officers was needed for a resilient force.

Speaking at a Policing Board seminar in Belfast, Mr Hamilton said: "Since becoming Chief Constable I have had to make £108m in cuts to my budget.

"In fact, since 2004 PSNI has implemented cuts of totalling some £386m.

"This is the reality of the public finance situation.

"While I would like to have 7,000 police officers, it is simply not possible.

"But that doesn't mean that we can't keep people safe. What it does mean is that policing will continue to change."

He also warned that the dissident republican threat places a substantial financial burden on the delivery of policing.

"There have been four serious attempts to murder police officers in 2017 alone," he added.

In light of the budget pressures, Mr Hamilton said the cost of legacy investigations will have to be reviewed.

"I would encourage our politicians to continue to work to bring a resolution to this momentous challenge, not just for policing, but for all of those who continue to suffer the pain of the past every day," he added.

Mr Lindsay said: "A cut in the size of the PSNI's strength means dire consequences for levels of service the public has a right to expect.

"Station closures, slower response times, low or no visibility on the streets, and all the time we face a terrorist threat rated 'severe' and a UK threat raised to 'critical' after the appalling Manchester attack.

"Crime outcomes will inevitably be reduced as the investigative capacity of the service is further eroded. Proactive operations against organised lower level crime and anti-social behaviour will be further inhibited, the effects of which will be felt by communities.

"We won't have the support of the Army during this 'critical' period, but officers will be expected to adopt high visibility at various prominent sites in Northern Ireland, and that has to mean being redeployed from other duties. We're already hundreds below what the Chief Constable said he needed, so this added burden will place enormous pressures on officers.

"We've been warning this £20m cut was heading our way and that it would impact very badly."

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