Police are losing control of north and west Belfast amid mounting security fears and growing paramilitary activity, a PSNI insider has claimed.
A concerned officer says a lack of resources, delayed response times and nervousness about future attacks on the force are driving communities to dissident gangs for protection.
In the last week, one republican group is said to have chased down a stolen car and returned stolen tools to their owner.
Meanwhile, a catalogue of issues relating to the PSNI in north and west Belfast has been reported to this newspaper.
Following a call to police on Sunday night about a shooting in Newtownabbey, officers - believed to have been from a unit outside the area - attended the scene more than 12 hours later.
Across the city on Norglen Drive in west Belfast, three cars were burnt out in the early hours of Monday morning.
In an even more alarming claim, a PSNI source alleged police left a "viable device" found last month in Poleglass for 15 hours before the correct response units made it to the scene.
The senior officer claimed police on the ground were told to stay out of the area, while the public - unaware of the potential danger to their lives - continued to pass the device on Brians Well Road until Army Technical Officers and Territorial Support Group units arrived.
The latest concerns come after an officer in his 20s was shot at a petrol station on the Crumlin Road last month and less than a week after Chief Constable George Hamilton answered complaints from a female officer that there weren't enough personnel to police the streets of Belfast, insisting there were enough people to do the job.
A worried officer said colleagues feared for their safety because of poor training and inadequate resources.
According to the source not all PSNI officers have received sufficient firearms training, with many ill-equipped to use their G36 assault rifles if they were to come under attack.
While some have had adequate training, the source said, not all have been taught how to respond tactically if under attack.
However, the PSNI said only specific and specialist officers are trained to use G36 weapons.
The source said officers are stretched too thinly across the north and west districts of the city, with concerns personnel could be left without adequate support if a large number were deployed to one place should a major incident take place.
Following alleged warnings about IEDs posing a potential threat, officers are worried police vehicles are not armoured strongly enough to withstand an attack, it is claimed.
According to the insider, some jeeps could not hold off an IED blast.
"All these things are feeding into each other," said the source. "The police are overstretched, they're afraid of more attacks and they are being kept out of certain areas by their superiors until it's felt they are safe to go in.
"That means waiting for back-up and telling undercover officers in those areas they're coming in. But that is leaving communities potentially in danger. People are being told to call the police in emergencies but in many cases when they do, they're not getting quick and efficient help.
"Almost every day officers are going in to their stations to a list of jobs held over from the day before. Officers have simply driven past when they've seen bins on fire by the Divis flats. They don't feel safe getting out so communities are turning to gangs for help.
"These dissidents are going out and dealing with things when the police aren't there in time. We've seen more punishment shootings, more hijackings and we all know we've had a young policeman shot in the last few weeks. The PSNI is losing control of north and west Belfast, and dissident groups are filling that space."
Last night Chief Inspector Keith Jackson explained the decision not to attend the Newtownabbey shooting until yesterday morning.
He said: "Police officers liaised with a community representative and were able to ascertain the identity of the home owner and the exact location of the incident.
"The home owner was spoken to and confirmed neither he nor anyone else had been injured and that he had left his home to stay at another location for the evening.
"A decision was made to increase patrolling in the general area overnight and to attend the scene of the incident during daylight hours on Monday morning.
"This decision was based on a variety of factors including the safety of the public and police officers."
A spokesperson said while they couldn't comment on whether the unit sent to deal with the shooting was local, districts can use officers from across departments and units.
Responding to Sunday's shooting, Sinn Fein's Gerry Kelly said: "There can be no place for the use of guns on our streets. I would call on those responsible to stop these actions immediately."