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Police's personal protection crucial

Editor's Viewpoint

Published 02/05/2016

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The PSNI faces severe challenges and, at a time when the threat from dissident paramilitaries remains severe, it is difficult to understand why some officers are having their personal firearms withdrawn because their training has lapsed.

This is likely to affect up to 200, and it is no surprise that some of them are expressing a great deal of concern about their safety, which should not be compromised.

A personal protection weapon is exactly what it is meant to be, namely a means of self-defence for a police officer as a last resort. The result of removing this is to drastically reduce personal safety and an officer's ability to protect him or herself.

To add to this outrage, it appears that individual officers are not to blame for having their personal protection weapons removed.

This is due to a complex range of factors. Inflexible work patterns, last-minute rostering, intensive operational demands and sick leave are all part of the problem.

This is not the fault of individuals, who are doing their best to plug the gaps in the service. The PSNI is facing resource issues, but the safety of its officers remains of paramount importance.

The idea that the PSNI regards the risk of an officer - whose training has lapsed, injures himself with his weapon and then sues the force - as greater than the prospect of an officer coming under attack and being unable to defend him or herself, is most concerning.

Mark Lindsay, chair of the Police Federation, is right when he says that the force should show greater understanding of the dilemma some officers face. He is right, too, when he says: "The removal of a firearm should not be the first response, but should take into consideration a number of factors, including the individual's role, and the current threat."

Deputy Chief Constable Drew Harris counters this by saying that a decision to remove a service pistol is a balance between public safety, public confidence in the police, and the officer's personal safety. This sounds reasonable in theory, but how do we know that in practice it gets that balance right?

The officers risk their lives every day to try to save lives and to police Northern Ireland as effectively and as fairly as possible, but the PSNI should err on the side of caution on this important issue.

In no way should police officers become sitting ducks.

Belfast Telegraph

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