Belfast Telegraph

We need 300 more officers to hold the line, says PSNI Chief Constable Matt Baggott

By Deborah McAleese

Chief Constable Matt Baggott is to ask Northern Ireland’s Policing Board for at least 300 extra officers amid serious concerns over the long-term resilience of the organisation, the Belfast Telegraph has learned.

The need for an increase in the strength of the PSNI, which would be the largest growth in police numbers since its birth in 2001 under Patten, is a clear indication of the potential crisis facing policing in Northern Ireland.

Mr Baggott is also expected to request multi-million pound increases in the PSNI’s budget over several years to deal with the growing challenges that are placing a major strain on the force.

With the continuing threat from dissident republicans and organised crime gangs, unresolved parades issues, an increase in incidents of public disorder and social unrest, the emergence of new flashpoint areas, an upsurge in loyalist paramilitary activities and ongoing historical investigations, senior officers are worried that the organisation is being stretched beyond its limits.

It is understood that senior officers will brief members of the Policing Board tomorrow about the identified need for extra manpower and money during a private workshop about the PSNI’s resource strategy. Members will then have an opportunity to hear directly from Mr Baggott at a full Policing Board meeting next week.

He is expected to tell them that he needs to boost the strength of the PSNI from 7,000 to 7,300 over the next two to three years.

The PSNI hopes to recruit some experienced officers from other forces to help replace expertise due to be lost by retiring officers in areas like CID, public order, close protection and organised crime.

The Chief Constable also intends to launch a recruitment campaign for new officers later this year after a three-year recruitment freeze. Up to 200 new officers could be recruited this year to start replenishing the force which is set to lose a large number of staff through retirement. The number of recruits is not expected to affect the overall establishment figure. Mr Baggott is also looking at civilianising a number of police jobs so that more officers can be freed for frontline duties.

“Officers are exhausted with the amount of work they’ve been having to do over the past few months. A piece of elastic can only stretch so far,” a PSNI source said.

DUP policing spokesman Jonathan Craig said: “There is a major deficit within the police force at the minute with a number of officers taking the retirement package, so not only will the PSNI have to recruit to maintain the ex

isting level, but clearly, due to the level of the dissident threat, continuing protests, unresolved parading issues and now the blocking of the National Crime Agency, there is massive additional pressure on the PSNI.

“The Chief Constable has identified a real need to increase existing police numbers.”

Mr Craig added that in the short-term, while the tendering processes for additional officers are being put in place, the PSNI is going to be left with no other choice but to request mutual aid from police forces outside Northern Ireland to assist with some of the major events due to take place this year, including the G8 and the World Police and Fire Games.

Although further austerity measures are expected throughout many Government departments in the next four-year Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR) period, 2015-2019, the Belfast Telegraph understands that Mr Baggott will be making a strong case to Justice Minister David Ford for additional funds.

It is believed he could request an increase of between £15m and £18m in his budget for the first year of the next CSR period, followed by around £30m in each of the following years.

Mr Baggott has been reluctant to request extra resources, given the financial pressures on all Government departments. The PSNI’s briefing to the Policing Board tomorrow comes just days after the Chief Constable warned a Parliamentary committee that he was very concerned about police numbers. He told the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee that it was currently “a very testing time for the PSNI” and that “it is inevitable we need more police officers”.

He’s also determined to ensure that policing public disorder does not inflict any long-term damage on neighbourhood policing.

“Unfortunately, in all of this, the first area being damaged is neighbourhood policing and the Chief Constable wants to ensure this is preserved. All of this will be an additional cost and burden to the taxpayer,” warned Mr Craig.

The DUP man added: “We are all beginning to see the true cost of street protests, the dissident threat and parades problems. It is a big wake-up call to us all.”

Story so far

The PSNI has come under massive strain in recent months dealing with incidents of public disorder, contentious parades, the severe terrorist threat, Troubles-related investigations and organised crime. Chief Constable Matt Baggott last week warned a Parliamentary committee that he had serious concerns over police numbers and finances. It is understood he will now be requesting an additional 300 officers and a multi-million-pound increase in the PSNI’s budget.

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