Editor's Viewpoint: We must meet price of policing
In October last year Chief Constable George Hamilton warned that a £50m cut to the PSNI's budget would leave the force in a virtually impossible position. Neighbourhood policing would be axed except in the most high risk areas and officers would merely respond to crime rather than be proactive in trying to prevent it.
Fast forward six months and it is evident the Chief Constable was not exaggerating. The latest statistics show that an average of 287 crimes were reported every day in the last year with 90 of them violent crimes. The overall number of offences rose by 2.3% but only 30% of crimes were solved.
The story of pensioner Betty Young who suffered a broken arm and bruising during a mugging puts a human face on the statistics. She is literally paying the price of austerity, a victim of a crime that might have been prevented if there was a greater police presence on the ground. Instead the Chief Constable has to endure a double whammy in his efforts to fight crime - a reduced budget and a reduced force.
And it must be remembered that the PSNI faces an active terrorist threat from dissident republicans and also continuing criminality from loyalist paramilitaries, including increasing numbers of punishment shootings and beatings.
Critics of the force point out that it handed back to the Department of Justice some £14m which it had not spent at the end of the last financial year and they wonder why the Chief Constable complains of lack of funding yet does not spend all the money in his budget.
But that was chiefly money given to the force late in the year when its spending plans were already drawn up and senior officers argue that it would have been irresponsible to spend the money unnecessarily. It would have made much more sense to allow the PSNI to retain that money and add it to this year's budget as forces in other parts of the UK are able to do with their underspends.
The Chief Constable is not alone in having to live within a restricted budget, but policing is one of the vital services of any society and we see in the example of Betty Young the consequences when the service falls below the standard expected. Policing can be a matter of life and death and it is not unreasonable to anticipate that it is funded accordingly. Of course it cannot be given a blank cheque and must improve its efficiency, but it should not be hamstrung either.