Sharing the cost of good policing
People are accustomed to the presence of police at all kinds of events, but few of us realise what this means in hard cash, or who actually pays for police services. At the top end, it cost more than £50m to police the G8 summit in Fermanagh, while the ongoing standoff at Twaddell Avenue costs a staggering £330,000 a month.
Many of the high-profile operations are funded by police sources, but the PSNI can charge organisers thousands of pounds for providing services with a public order element, including large concerts and sporting occasions.
The hourly rates for officers ranges from almost £100 for a Chief Superintendent, to a part-time reserve officer at almost £17.
In principle this is a good idea in times of austerity.
People will be asking why should those who stage public events for profit get their policing free or paid for by the taxpayers.
The cost of hiring police for special events can be reasonable, but this raises an operational dimension for the PSNI.
If a sergeant is hired at just over £50 an hour, but a sergeant is also needed for other police duties, does that mean that another officer has to be paid overtime to fulfil that duty?
If so, that seems a false economy.
All of this is set against a background where the PSNI is currently 180 officers short of the required number for what is termed "operational resilience".
As we noted earlier, the number of police on duty has been cut drastically since the worst days of the Troubles.
In more recent times, the PSNI has had to undergo severe budgetary costs, like many other government-funded organisations.
Many people will be wondering whether the cuts may be going too far, and already the number of neighbourhood policing teams has been cut from 80 to 34, while we are down to only one last operational station during night hours.
So far the PSNI seems to be able to cope, partly through overtime payments and also through more innovative ways of using resources.
It seems clear that we will need to be ever more inventive about how we use the police, and how we pay for them.
This is a question not only for the Chief Constable and his senior colleagues and the Policing Board, but also for all of us.