Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 20 April 2014

Ed Curran: PSNI is out of step with the need for more street patrols

What are we to make of the Police Service of Northern Ireland? Not a lot by its own admission.

The PSNI deserves respect and sympathy in so far as it is the target for continued dissident terrorist attack. However, with regard to normal day to day policing it does not rate highly.

We are told officers spend 61% of their time on administrative tasks. The PSNI has lost sight of the public’s policing requirements. Officers are not deployed where they are needed. They have “insufficient information” on the factors causing crime. There is little evidence of a clear crime prevention strategy.

A desk-bound, nine-to-five culture has taken hold to the extent that one in two crimes are not even reported to the PSNI. The public has little faith that crimes will be properly investigated and offenders such as burglars brought to justice. And by the way, and not apparently highlighted in the leaked report to the media, we also know the PSNI has an unduly high record of absenteeism |and illness.

It’s not often I agree with Alex Maskey. He asserts that this report is nothing new and that it only serves to confirm what people have suspected for some time. The fundamental issue is the management of the PSNI and the police’s inability to link into the community it is supposed to serve.

By its own admission, the PSNI is not serving us well. It is too remote and few of us have any connection with its officers. We may see plenty of traffic branch officers on our highways and byways, but the police in general are not interacting with the public.

Surprisingly, after all the fundamental police reforms of recent years, senior officers admit much more needs to be done. If, after years of a change of strategy, |starting with the Patten Report, the PSNI is now found to be so wanting, where does blame rest?

We were led to believe that the reforms of recent years swept much deadwood away and that we now have a streamlined modern respected police service second to none.

Now we learn that the PSNI is incompetent. It is nowhere near as efficient as other police services in Britain in detecting crime and putting perpetrators behind bars. We have more police officers per head of the population than other areas, but less crime to face.

Upon whose shoulders does blame rest? Firstly the PSNI senior management, from Sir Hugh Orde down. They may have bared their souls in this hard-hitting report but should they not have foreseen problems and addressed them before now? We are now told there will be more officers out and about within months. That remains to be seen. It is difficult to see how such a deskbound organisation can be turned around so swiftly. Also, reducing the PSNI by another 500 officers seems an odd way to increase its presence on our streets.

The PSNI hierarchy is extraordinarily well-paid. The new Chief Constable will be earning almost as much as the Prime Minister. Mr Matt Baggott won his post on the strength of his strategy for community policing. No previous Chief Constable has come to his job with such united political backing. However, we know now that Mr Baggott will have his work cut out for him, to deliver on the promises he made to the interviewing panel.

Where has the Policing Board of Northern Ireland been all these years? In their inspections of policing procedures why were Board members not more alert to the failings of the police service as chronicled in the leaked report?

What are we to make now of the extensive reforms which have taken place since the PSNI was re-created out of the old RUC in 2001? Why after all the microscopic probes into the old RUC and the new PSNI are we finding out only now that so much is still wrong?

Our society is also to blame. Whether we are talking about the workload of staff in the health service or police officers, the fear of litigation has created a huge bureaucracy. The pursuit of criminals is burdened down by wasteful form-filling administration. We need to have more confidence in the police service to enable officers to have a free hand to do what they are paid to do.

None of us can overlook the unique risks facing police officers in this country as evidenced by ongoing dissident republican activity. That said, progress in policing cannot be inhibited by the threat of terror. Regrettably, the Police Service of Northern Ireland has a long way to go.

Why was there no live television coverage of last Thursday’s One Day cricket international at Stormont? This was the biggest day of the year for Irish cricket fans, and a major sporting occasion for Northern Ireland.

The match was a sell-out at Stormont, despite the inclement weather. We had a rare opportunity to see Ireland take on the Ashes-winning England side and fail only narrowly to win.

I’m told Sky Sport which has the rights to cover cricket were prepared to step aside and allow BBC Northern Ireland to broadcast the match. However, the BBC declined the approach from Irish cricket on grounds of cost.

A day after the momentous encounter at Stormont, Scotland took on Australia in another one day international. And would you believe it, BBC Scotland provided full live coverage. I would have thought a case of BBC Northern Ireland caught out in the slips or, worse still, leg before wicket.

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