Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 12 July 2014

PSNI: Damned if they do, damned if they don’t

The emotive reaction of the public as they watch footage of officers not retaliating when under attack from a mob of rioters is understandably one of incredulity as to why they did not move in and make immediate arrests.

As the Chief Constable pointed out, no other police force in the world would have shown the restraint that PSNI officers showed during the recent riots.

In Northern Ireland the police approach to public disorder situations is one of containment and evidence gathering.

During riots officers can be seen gathering footage on hand-held cameras and cameras attached to armoured vehicles.

Video footage is also gathered from the police helicopter.

Officers will no doubt be studying the hours of video that was gathered to identify as many of the perpetrators as possible.

One of the problems, however, is making sure the charges stick, and that is up to the Public Prosecution Service.

One of the reasons the PSNI adopt this containment and evidence gathering approach is that if they were seen to be too heavy handed it would inflame an already volatile situation and put the safety of officers and the public at even greater risk.

Breaking the cordon that officers set up around rioters would also risk leaving police open to more serious attack from dissident republicans, who have been using the riots as a cover to target officers with bombs and guns.

Also, any wrong move by officers could be used as fodder by dissidents to increase support or spark a political row.

After the riots in north Belfast on Monday the PSNI were criticised on one hand for firing too many plastic bullets, and then criticised on the other for not being tough enough.

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