PSNI moving forward with Baggott’s personal touch
Despite the renegade republican threat, the nature of policing here has changed and continues to change, says Brian Rowan
The ‘personal’ policing that Chief Constable Matt Baggott wants to achieve is going to take a little longer to deliver in some places — and the reason for this is obvious.
‘Personal’ is his buzzword; his way of describing what others call community, policing.
It is the promise that came with his arrival almost a year ago — getting his officers closer to the communities they police, building relationships in which the police know the people, and the people know the police.
This is where policing wants to go — needs to go — and will mark it out as changing and different. But there is an old threat, that ugly endgame of war in which dissident republicans continue to target the PSNI, its bases and personnel.
Mainstream republicans are now part of that policing, but the dissidents still view the PSNI as the enemy, and this means that there are some places where that personal-style policing will have to wait.
In their most recent surge of activity, it is clear the dissidents are looking for another kill; looking for it in the close quarters, under-car, booby trap bomb attacks that are becoming more a feature in this |campaign of violence.
So, there is a balance to be achieved between the safety of |officers and the protection of |communities.
None of this is to suggest that policing is jogging on the spot — that dissident activity has forced some kind of retreat.
When you talk to those who are part of Matt Baggott’s top team, they will tell you there are 430 more officers now out on the ground. Crime is at a 12-year low.
There is a real sense that community support — across the communities — is building, and that condemnation of attacks on the |police is going further.
Much of that progress gets lost in the headlines of the attacks, but in the words of one PSNI source: “Policing is consistently moving forward despite the threat.”
The devolution of policing and justice has now been settled, the new ministry and structure taking shape, and, for now, the PSNI is holding on to full-time Reserve officers, keeping them on operational duties for longer than expected.
But Matt Baggott will have arguments to win in discussions with politicians and inside the Police Service as he tries to keep his |agenda moving forward.
There are real fears about the dissident threat; concerns about whether the police alone can cope.
And then there are those situations linked to contentious marches that put the police in the middle of that argument.
The Chief Constable and his |senior colleagues constantly have to persuade the doubters the threats that are out there can be |policed without the Army.
And they know that marching soldiers back onto the stage would be to take this place many steps back into its past.
For all the dissidents are doing, this is not the 1970s, 1980s or 1990s, not a re-run of the IRA war and, to quote one senior officer, people need to be “sensible in their |reactions to this”.
What it needs is the police to do what they think is best, not what politicians think is best.
What we see from the dissidents is not all of the picture. Much of their activity is prevented. But there is a thin line between what they would term success and failure — a thin line between life and death.
We all have to understand that there is no such thing as perfect intelligence, and we all need to understand that some security moves would play right into the hands of the dissidents.
Matt Baggott and his team are making a difference. Maybe not as quickly as they would like, but policing has changed, and is changing.