Belfast Telegraph

PSNI recruitment crisis: 'Lives at risk' as force numbers fall, says Chief Constable

By Deborah McAleese

Lives could be at risk as police officer numbers are set to fall 200 below the minimum needed for a "resilient PSNI", it has been warned.

The strength of the PSNI will drop to 6,770 by April next year because there is no money to replace retiring officers, the Chief Constable told the Policing Board.

Last year a review into the strength of the PSNI found that a minimum of 7,000 officers was needed for a "resilient" force.

Chief Constable George Hamilton also revealed that officers will be spending 300,000 less hours on the street due to a £6.2m cut to the PSNI's overtime budget.

As officer numbers have continued to drop, overtime has been used to police large-scale operations such as riots, the marching season, flag protests and the G8.

Mr Hamilton said that despite the changes, the PSNI will continue to protect life, prevent crime and bring offenders to justice.

However, Policing Board member Jonathan Craig warned that there must be a "crisis change" in the way policing is managed in Northern Ireland to ensure lives are not at greater risk.

"Lives could be at risk if PSNI senior management does not put appropriate contingency plans in place to police with much fewer officers. This is going to be a huge challenge for the PSNI leadership. It is going to be extremely difficult for senior management and also for the officers on the ground," the DUP MLA said.

Mr Hamilton told the Policing Board that projections for the years ahead "present serious concerns" for him, both as an accounting officer and Chief Constable.

"This is an incredibly challenging picture that we are presented with. The work that we do with the board over the next few months is of critical importance, not only in producing a bid for the next CSR (Comprehensive Spending Review) period; but in how we recalibrate to deliver a policing service with a smaller organisation," he said.

He said there is no doubt more difficult choices lie ahead because "while the budgets and the human resources in the organisation are shrinking, the demand to which we respond is increasing".

Every day PSNI officers respond to more than 1,300 calls from the public, make 92 arrests, search 89 people, prepare 125 prosecution files, seize £27,000 worth of drugs and respond to 26 reports of road traffic collisions, two of which involve death or serious injury, according to the Chief Constable.

This does not include work on murder and serious crime investigations, the management of sex offenders, child sexual exploitation, domestic abuse and international organised crime, he added.

Quotes

"We are going to have to prioritise our finite resources to an extent that we have not done before. There is no doubt that the way in which we deliver some of our services to the community will have to change but make no mistake in what I am saying - criminals shouldn't rest easy because policing is changing."

- George Hamilton

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