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Budget cuts 'to blame' as west Belfast people losing trust in police



PSNI at the scene of an incident in Belfast

PSNI at the scene of an incident in Belfast

PSNI at the scene of an incident in Belfast

A former senior police officer has blamed "appalling" funding cuts for a breakdown of trust between the public and PSNI in west Belfast.

Alan McQuillan, a former Assistant Chief Constable, made the comments after a report from peace-building group Co-operation Ireland said there was a growing "general distrust" with the PSNI and criminal justice system in west Belfast.

"There are major challenges," he said. "The PSNI had made some progress but that's started to go backwards in recent years.

"The main problem is that the PSNI are highly underfunded.

"They have 1,000 less officers out on the streets this year, far less than the Patten Report recommended. It's appalling it's been allowed to drift that way."

In February, the Police Federation for Northern Ireland said £386m had been cut from the police budget since 2004.

It was further reported that since 2012, neighbourhood police officer numbers had dropped from 1,332 to 311 last year.

Mr McQuillan added that long delays in the criminal justice system had eroded public confidence.

"Even the most basic offences can take up to 18 months to be dealt with - it's utterly sporadic," he said.

"People see these dangerous offenders out on bail and banking up offences. They already know they're going to jail but that they'll end up serving their different sentences concurrently."

Mr McQuillan said officers needed to be seen out in areas like west Belfast regularly.

"The PSNI have made great efforts, not just in west Belfast, but they just don't have enough resources," he said. "If you ask people for their views on police, in general, you get one answer.

"If you ask them about local police, people they know, it's completely different. It's vital we do this more to build up trust."

The research from Co-operation Ireland said that frustration with the "slow" pace of the criminal justice system produced low levels of crime reporting and assistance to the PSNI. Some viewed so-called 'punishment attacks' as a form of immediate respite or redress, the report found.

It said: "There is a general sense of distrust in the PSNI and the criminal justice system, and frustration with the slow pace of the criminal justice system has led to low levels of reporting and cooperation by the local community.

"Relationships between the community and the PSNI are seen as deteriorating in recent years."

The reasons include perceptions of "sporadic" community policing, leading to a spike in crime and an alleged abuse of stop and search powers.

The belief that police did not act on information provided by the community and too much leniency was shown to repeat offenders were also cited.

Woodbourne police station, which handles west Belfast, has seen a slight decline in total crime levels since 2016/17, PSNI figures showed. Policing priorities in the area include tackling anti-social behaviour, drugs and burglary. The Co-operation Ireland study said: "There is concern that the pace of turnover of local police teams means community and political leaders constantly have to build new relationships with the police."

District Commander for Belfast, Chief Superintendent Jonathan Roberts, said: "We recognise that there are concerns outlined in this report. Some of these concerns were also raised and discussed with police during the recent NI Policing Board Community Consultation on Policing.

"Budget cuts have resulted in a reduction in police numbers and this has clearly had an impact on community policing in west Belfast. It is not known what the impact of potential further cuts may be. However, we respect community feelings, we are listening and we want to work with the community to address any concerns."

Belfast Telegraph