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PSNI could be pared down to skeleton staff, union warns

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PSNI officers are still carrying out their normal duties in challenging times

PSNI officers are still carrying out their normal duties in challenging times

PSNI officers are still carrying out their normal duties in challenging times

The PSNI could be reduced to a skeleton workforce during the coronavirus pandemic, it has been warned.

Mark Lindsay, who chairs the Police Federation for Northern Ireland (PFNI), made the comments but also acknowledged that it was difficult to predict what could happen in the weeks and months ahead.

Mr Lindsay explained that the PFNI was involved in planning at the highest levels and has called for adequate personal protection equipment to be made available including masks, gloves and scenes-of-crime white suits.

"The basic stuff that is now difficult to obtain because of a worldwide shortage," he said.

Mr Lindsay also called for the immediate introduction of spit and bite guards to protect officers.

"We want to make sure that they are protected to do their job because the more people who do not report for work, the more people who isolate and the more people who become ill will actually put a great strain on society and the criminal justice system and, indeed, public health," he continued.

"In a situation where officers are expected to enforce emergency legislation, we are not as well resourced as other parts of the UK. We do not have cadets. We do not have access to military so we are very much on our own."

Mr Lindsay added that it is "imperative" that testing for police officers is brought forward without further delay.

"This will increase workforce resilience and will be a major factor in ensuring that our officers can remain at work," he stated.

"For years we have been calling for the resourcing of the PSNI to be adequately looked at. In normal times, we are very stretched. Nobody knows what three or four weeks could do to our workforce. We could be left with a skeleton workforce trying to enforce legislation, trying to keep the lid on normal crime.

"It is very difficult to predict but I can assure the public that we will do our best. That's what we are here for."

Earlier this month PSNI Chief Constable Simon Byrne told the Policing Board contingency plans are in place if high numbers of his officers are struck down by coronavirus.

These would include 12-hour shifts and cancelled rest days, he added.

On Thursday Mr Byrne briefed the board on the latest response planning and pledged to "keep people safe and serve the community during this challenging time".

Belfast Telegraph