A shortage of funding and the loss of many experienced officers poses problems for the PSNI in its fight against ordinary crime.
There are not as many officers available for deployment as senior officers, and the public, would like. Also the public sometimes has unrealistic expectations of what police can actually do to prevent crime or to find those responsible for it. It is, therefore, refreshing to read how the PSNI is employing joined-up thinking in its efforts to make the streets safer.
In the second part of a major interview published in this newspaper today, Assistant Chief Constable Alistair Finlay outlines how the force is fighting back against a hard core of 50 burglars who are believed to be responsible for many of the break-ins at property and vehicles in the Belfast area.
A staggering 3,189 burglaries took place in nine months, an average of 11 a day. This type of crime has a disproportionate effect on public morale. Anyone who has ever suffered a burglary feels violated and
somewhat unsafe in their own home. These are notoriously difficult crimes to solve, but the officer reveals that police are building up a detailed profile of serial offenders and will target them specifically over the coming weeks and months.
Assistant Chief Constable Finlay also outlined how society as a whole has a part to play in preventing crime.
One of the dividends of Northern Ireland’s decade of peace is a burgeoning night life across the province, but particularly in Belfast, where up to 10,000 revellers can end up on the streets at the end
of the night. Inevitably, many of those people, especially at weekends, will be drunk and this can lead to violence. As much as 40% of all violent crime takes place during the late hours of weekend nights.
While a highly visible police presence can have a deterrent effect, there are other measures which can be taken which are strictly nothing to do with policing.
The officer suggests taking a leaf out of the book of Glasgow — a city with a violent history — and closing down, or at least restricting the number of, late night hot food carry-out premises. This prevents
large crowds gathering outside such premises with all the latent potential for trouble. This might seem a Draconian measure — and harsh on a service industry which needs all the custom it can in these days of credit crunch — but it has been proven to reduce the number of violent incidents in city centres.
Other suggestions worth exploring are marshals at taxi-ranks to keep the queues moving and to stamp out rogue cabbies, plus the provision of more late night transport to enable revellers to get out of the city centre quickly.
Getting crowds to dissipate rapidly is the key to preventing violence. The initiative will require the co-operation of the public, the service industry, taxi companies and Translink to be successful. It has the potential to transform the atmosphere in the city centre and other areas where large crowds congregate at the end of the night.
If successful it could also free up police resources to tackle other forms of crime — a welcome spin-off for the whole community.