600 sectarian crimes at Belfast's interfaces in just nine months
More than 600 sectarian incidents, including assaults and intimidation, have been recorded by police at interfaces across Belfast within the past nine months.
PSNI commander for north Belfast Nigel Grimshaw said that although "we have come a long way", there are still "too many incidents at our interfaces, too many involving young people and children".
Last month the Belfast Telegraph revealed that up to 200 police officers had been needed to provide security at interfaces across Belfast on a nightly basis to prevent outbreaks of violence in several areas, particularly in the north and east of the city.
Mr Grimshaw warned that due to the financial pressures on the PSNI, policing interfaces will become more difficult. "We will continue to meet our obligations but as we move forward that will become more difficult," he said yesterday during a Community Relations Council interface conference.
"We, like everybody else, will have to prioritise our resources based on threat, risk and harm," Mr Grimshaw added.
Justice Minister David Ford told the conference there were fewer peace walls now than when justice was devolved.
"We have come a long way, yet we still have a very long way to go. We need a sustained, resourced and shared approach to remove interfaces" Mr Ford said.
Concern had recently been raised within the PSNI and Policing Board that resources were being tied up at interfaces at a time when police officer numbers are at an all-time low.
"If we weren't out there at these interfaces somebody could end up seriously injured. But it does mean that officers are being taken from other duties to maintain a presence in these areas," one PSNI officer said.
Policing Board member Jonathan Craig said: "It is a major concern that there are several interface issues across Belfast. It is chewing up massive resources and costing a fortune." There are around 100 identified interface areas in Belfast.
While many remain peaceful, there are some where violence can often erupt.
In October three police officers were injured during three consecutive nights of sporadic trouble near an interface in the east of the city. The most expensive interface policing operation is currently at Twaddell Avenue in north Belfast, where Orangemen have been holding a nightly protest camp over a Parades Commission decision to ban them from marching past the nationalist Ardoyne.
The police operation at the protest camp has so far cost more than £7m.
Officers have come under terrorist attack three times in the space of 12 months while policing the Twaddell/Crumlin Road interface. One officer told this paper they felt like "sitting ducks" following the surge in dissident republican attacks.