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Impersonal policing can only harm PSNI

Editor's Viewpoint

When Matt Baggott was appointed Chief Constable of the PSNI in 2009 he made it clear that one of his priorities was to further develop community - or neighbourhood-style - policing. Notwithstanding the problems of dissident republican violence, he believed that such an approach would further cement community support for the police and also provide greater reassurance to the public by increasing the visibility of officers.

It was a plan that never fulfilled the potential that Mr Baggott believed it possessed, and his successor has faced continual and continuing funding cuts which have impacted negatively on the force.

Instead of becoming closer to the public it serves, the PSNI, in many parts of Northern Ireland, has become more remote.

And suggestions that members of the public should now use social media to report crimes is bound to create a further sense of removal between the police and the people.

While the PSNI uses social media to pass on information on practical things like home and personal security, aspects of the law and news updates, it somehow smacks of a desperate attempt to make the best of a bad situation.

Can the public really build up a rapport with police at a time when local stations are closing or have opening hours radically reduced? Surely they would prefer to see the comforting sight of a police patrol in their area rather than putting some PSNI poster boy on Facebook?

How will the use of social media for reporting crimes work after the planned closure of six enquiry offices come into effect? And what use will social media be to those people without internet access or even the skill or inclination to use it?

Effective policing surely still depends on good interaction between the public and officers. The public need to feel that their concerns are taken seriously and will be dealt with promptly. They want to talk to officers who will be involved in investigating their complaint, not simply sending a message into the ether without any knowledge of what will then happen to it.

It has to be accepted that the PSNI has to alter the way it works due to its reduced resources and manpower and the ever present terrorist threat. But it must guard against its hard-won community support being diminished by becoming too impersonal.

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