Belfast Telegraph

Trend of PSNI station closures unsettling

Editor's Viewpoint

The latest revelations from Chief Constable George Hamilton about the possible closure of yet more police stations across the province are deeply worrying.

If these closures go ahead, despite Mr Hamilton's predictable reassurances to the contrary, many people will feel less secure.

This unease about the lack of local police stations is felt more acutely, though not exclusively, in rural areas, where people will be fearful for their personal safety and for the safety of their families and friends, as well as their property.

It is disturbing to realise that only a decade ago there were 140 police stations in Northern Ireland. Now there are fewer than half that number in operation.

It is true, of course, that the security situation is not what it was even 10 years ago, and far less than during the height of the Troubles.

Nevertheless, there is a continuing threat from dissident paramilitaries, and extreme acts of violence cannot be ruled out.

Crime continues to exist in all shapes and forms.

There is also the argument that the lessening of paramilitary violence has allowed other forms of severe anti-social behaviour to flourish. The growth of the drugs trade is one example of this disturbing behaviour.

Already the reduction in the number of police stations due to cost-cutting by the PSNI has shown worrying outcomes.

One example of this was the amount of emergency calls in Banbridge having to be answered by officers from Armagh city.

Another example occurred in Belfast when an emergency call from a hotel situated opposite Musgrave police station was answered by officers from an entirely different location one hour later.

The Chief Constable is required to work within a budget that seems to be getting less where security matters are concerned.

In essence, the PSNI is required to make more savings in its operational costs, but public trust is essential in having a police force that can respond effectively to crimes like drug smuggling, burglary and assault.

If the public does not feel safe, that is a high price to pay at a time when more police stations may close.

As a result the PSNI becomes less visible to the people who need its reassurance, as well as its protection from those who are out to cause trouble.

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