Police cost-cutting is too drastic
Those of us old enough to remember the Troubles will recall that in those dark days there seemed to be a police station on virtually every corner. Even 10 years ago there were 140 police stations in the province. If new plans are implemented Northern Ireland will have only one 24-hour opening police station and 53 open for a limited period each day.
The reason for the drastic reduction in the PSNI estate is lack of money. Continuing savage cuts to the policing budget mean the force has to look at new ways of delivering its service. It has already shed hundreds of officers and now it is the buildings that are being shut.
Some people might argue that a significant number of former police stations already shut down have not yet been sold and that their sale should be a priority, with the money raised being reinvested in the service.
While senior police officers stress that the service will continue to operate around the clock and that officers will respond to emergency calls from the public, they must realise that the perception of the person in the street is different.
When people see stations closing for good or opening only for a few hours daily, they fear that the service is bound to suffer. After all, where will officers be based? Inevitably they will have to cover a larger geographic area and the distances covered to respond to calls will be greater. That perception, whether it is borne out or not in the long term, will leave some people feeling more vulnerable.
There is also the issue of dissident republican terrorism. They may feel emboldened to step up their campaign in areas which stations might close or be open only for a reduced period of time each day.
Visible policing is reassuring to the public and a deterrent to the criminals or terrorists.
These proposed changes to the PSNI estate come just as new local policing teams - again introduced as a result of budget cuts - have been introduced.
Together it gives the impression of a force under enormous strain to produce the sort of service expected by the public. The PSNI has to adapt to meet the financial pressures and it is being quite radical in the measures taken to save money. But ultimately it exists to save lives. Local politicians must be innovative in finding more money for the force and the Policing Board must determine if these cost-cutting measures are all actually required.