When Matt Baggott took over as chief constable of the PSNI in August 2009, he made community policing one of his priorities. Given the changing political dynamic in the province, he wanted to create a force more like others in the UK, where policing was more concerned about everyday crime and public safety than fighting terrorism. It was a balancing act which was difficult to achieve because of the activities of dissident republicans.
That public confidence in the force has been severely shaken by the apparent events which were filmed on a Londonderry street. A short video shows two officers dragging an incapacitated woman who was lying on the roadway – she was said to be the victim of an assault minutes earlier – and leaving her by the side of the road.
Astonishingly, she is left in a bus lane and not on the pavement. The police officers then drive away.
Quite rightly, this incident is now the subject of an inquiry by the Police Ombudsman. A senior officer, who is tipped to replace Mr Baggott, admits that this was a bad day for the force if the video evidence proves conclusive.
And the police officers involved face an uncertain future within the force unless they can come up with a convincing explanation for their behaviour, which seems a difficult task.
Of course this single incident – which appears appalling – should not be used as an excuse to denigrate the Force, which goes about its work in a highly professional manner on a daily basis.
It is to the credit of the PSNI that an investigation has been launched immediately and an apology has been given to the woman from a high-ranking officer.
If the case is proven, then strong action should be taken against the officers involved.
That will help to repair the reputation of the force and serve as a warning to officers that any lapse in professional standards will not be tolerated.