PSNI drawing up plans to cope with 'drastically' reduced ranks
The PSNI is drawing up contingency plans in order to cope with more multi-million pound budget cuts that will leave it under strength and with drastically reduced ranks.
Police chiefs believe it will be impossible to maintain a force of 7,000 officers - the number needed, according to a recent review, for a resilient PSNI.
Budget pressures have already led to the loss of hundreds of temporary civilian jobs, the closure of the Historical Enquiries Team and reduced police station opening hours.
But further budget cuts of up to 15% could be imposed next year.
The PSNI is already 700 below the Patten recommendations of 7,500 full-time officers for a peace-time police force. Although recruitment for new officers was reopened this year, a third recruitment drive has been frozen.
"This - on top of the large number of serving police officers who are preparing for retirement - is going to mean drastic reductions to the strength of the force," Policing Board member Jonathan Craig warned. In order to deliver an effective service with reduced manpower the Chief Constable will have to look at bringing in officers from elsewhere in the UK, and the National Crime Agency must also be allowed to operate in Northern Ireland, the DUP MLA added.
It is also likely that a number of full-time civilian posts will be made redundant over the next few years. Police officers who had been moved from desk jobs to frontline duties will have to refill the civilian posts.
A police source said: "We are going to have to deal with the very real likelihood that the PSNI is going to be a drastically reduced organisation. It's impossible for us to have 7,000 officers. There is only so much you can do with disappearing budgets."
"There is of course a lot of apprehension about the cuts, especially when you look at the security situation and number of terrorist attacks on officers," the source added.
The most recent service to be affected by this year's budget cuts is the opening hours of stations. It emerged yesterday that all but two police stations are to have their public opening hours slashed.
Police Federation chairman Terry Spence described the situation as "ludicrous".
"A reduction in hours must necessarily mean a reduction in service, and that is to be regretted," he said.
Mr Spence added: "People seeking help and guidance, or who want to speak to an officer directly at a police station, will be denied that access, and that will lead to an erosion in confidence.
"Have these cuts in the PSNI budget really got us to the point where we cannot maintain a 24/7 opening of stations."
The Patten Report on policing recommended that the PSNI should have 7,500 full-time officers "provided the peace process does not collapse and the security situation does not deteriorate significantly". The PSNI currently has 6,800 officers - but that number is likely to decrease over the next few years.
More than 300 temporary workers have been told their posts are to be closed by the end of the year.
The PSNI decided not to renew its contract with Grafton Recruitment to help meet budget cuts. It means officers will be moved from the front line to desk duties.
There will be less visible front-line policing in communities as officer numbers fall.
And if next year’s cuts are as bad as feared the Chief Constable has warned that neighbourhood policing “would be eliminated in all but a small number of the most vulnerable neighbourhoods”.
The PSNI’s cold case unit has been axed. The squad was set up in 2005 to review more than 3,000 unsolved Troubles deaths. The police said it was anticipated the Historical Enquiries Team would be replaced by a “much smaller” PSNI branch that would focus on legacy investigations.
New PSNI recruits
A third recruitment drive that was supposed to help bring PSNI officer numbers up the minimum deemed necessary for a resilient police force has been frozen.
With large numbers of officers due to retire, the strength of the force will continue to decline.
Only two police stations in Northern Ireland are to be open 24 hours to the public in the future.
Station enquiry offices across the region will be open for a maximum of 12 hours each day, other than those at Musgrave Street in Belfast and Strand Road in Londonderry.