Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 30 July 2014

Politicians must back Baggott

In today's paper the Chief Constable Matt Baggott has underlined clearly, perhaps for the first time, his frustration with the political process here. After the confrontations in which many police officers were injured, he has admitted that the failure of public figures to be unequivocal about the law has "dented" the effectiveness of policing.

Mr Baggott may have been stung by his low rating in the recent Belfast Telegraph poll where he was last, but this was no surprise. Sadly the Chief Constable had to face the media alone to talk about the confrontations, or even the social needs of the deprived.

The Belfast Telegraph understands the Chief Constable's frustration. He has had little support, and he has become a convenient whipping boy for all sides.

People will struggle to find much condemnation of the disgraceful rioting in the middle of Belfast recently when 56 officers were injured in one night. Not surprisingly it was Matt Baggott who stood before the cameras and microphones because the political leaders had conveniently disappeared. This would not happen anywhere else.

The Chief Constable has the support of his force, and he has never ducked facing the music. However, it is not good enough for the politicians to leave him so isolated, and it is time that they placed party loyalties behind their duties as public representatives.

They should give full backing to the Chief Constable and stop resorting to condemnation in order to attract votes. They must look beyond their hardcore supporters, and support the police.

This newspaper, while broadly backing Matt Baggott, has disagreements with him over the police policy of withholding the names and pictures of criminals and the lack of the full release of information about incidents. In this respect the PSNI lags behind the rest of the UK, and this is something which Matt Baggott has steadfastly refused to tackle.

The PSNI may also be paralysed by human rights issues, to the point of self-censorship. However this is not surprising, because it operates in such a political vacuum.

On the whole, however the Chief Constable and his colleagues are doing a good job, and it is time that more politicians backed them publicly. Otherwise there is little chance that Matt Baggott will seek to renew his contract which runs out next year, and that would be a loss for all of us.

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