Police's union warns of 'dire consequences' cuts are having on level of service to the public
Police officers are finding it "increasingly difficult" to keep the public safe because of major cuts to budgets and resources, it has been warned.
An "unprecedented" shake-up of the PSNI in the wake of multi-million pound budget cuts has left the force with no resilience to "serve the public to a satisfactory level", the Chief Constable and the Justice Minister were told yesterday.
The shocking warning of a police service under immense strain came from the chairman of the Northern Ireland Police Federation Mark Lindsay during the body's annual conference.
The number of police officers in Northern Ireland has drastically dropped over the past 15 years from 13,500 to 6,800, many police stations have been shut and only a handful are open 24 hours.
Financial pressures also mean that recruitment of new officers, to help replace retiring officers, is only on a very small scale.
Mr Lindsay, who took over from Terry Spence who retired last year, said that further reductions to the PSNI's resources would have "dire consequences" on the organisation's overall level of service.
He revealed that some busy towns are already operating with a skeleton staff on duty and said the officers are finding it "increasingly difficult to serve the needs of the community and keep people safe."
Mr Lindsay also warned that due to the pressures on finances and resources police response times "will inevitably deteriorate", an increasing number of calls "will go unanswered", there will be longer waiting times for police intervention, a reduced police visibility on the streets, fewer proactive operations and "greatly impaired" investigative performance.
"This will inevitably lead to less public confidence in what we do and compromise our ability to deliver the police service our communities deserve," he said.
Mr Lindsay added: "The very apparatus which has enabled the PSNI to deliver effective policing is being progressively eroded to the point where we no longer have the resilience to effectively serve the public to a satisfactory level."
Last month it emerged that crime had risen for the second year in a row.
One of the largest increases was in violent crime and sexual offences.
Mr Lindsay warned that "the situation is set to get worse".
"Without adequate resourcing the organisation's strapline of 'keeping people safe' could end up sounding hollow and gimmicky... you cannot savage the bottom line and expect performance and delivery to remain unaffected," he said.
"The decline needs to be stopped in its tracks before we are damaged beyond all recognition."
Mr Lindsay claimed officers are owed 33,091 rest days - this is five days for every PSNI officer.
He said this was an indication of a service "extended to the limit" and a service "that needs help".
With officers being "stretched to the limit and working unpaid hours", morale is "languishing in the basement".
"We are caught in the current vortex of cuts, reorganisation, new work patterns and the deeply despised pension reform... shackle officers with oppressive and restrictive working conditions and very quickly this essential goodwill will evaporate," he said.
Mr Lindsay insisted that officers will continue to do their best despite the pressures they are under. He warned, however, that the public will see "a worrying reduction in service" because of this "unprecedented shake-up of policing".
Justice Minister Mr Ford said that it is a difficult financial climate, but added: "I give you my commitment to ensuring that, to the best of my ability, front line services will be protected."