Belfast Telegraph

Chief Constable George Hamilton: Despite the challenges, I won't walk away from protecting vulnerable

By George Hamilton, PSNI Chief Constable

At the weekend I tweeted a message which was inappropriate and I've apologised for that.

This was an important exchange about policing, what the role of an officer is and what it should be. Public discussion has also moved on to look at the pressures that police officers and staff face. In today's paper the Deputy Chief Constable provides an overview of the extensive support that we provide for our people, who do a difficult job as they work to keep people safe. I am wholeheartedly committed to supporting my officers and staff. We are here to serve our community and we need people to be engaged and fit to do that. The challenges police face today are complex because society is complex. Less than 20% of our calls for service last year related to crime, the majority of calls are linked to vulnerability and harm. We define vulnerability as a person who has additional needs due to age, disability, or risk of abuse or neglect.

Often there is overlap between what may be a health problem, a social problem or a community safety issue. That means caring for others, dealing with vulnerability, protecting life and upholding the law are currently part of what police might do in any given day.

Other public sector delivery partners have similar challenges. That's why the Programme for Government is now focused on an outcome based approach to service delivery.

To support the individual who is in crisis, or who may have a chaotic lifestyle, where a number of issues compound to place them in harm's way, we need a joined-up, multi-agency approach to help them.

Work has been ongoing with partner agencies to try and ensure the person-focused approach to service delivery is the way forward. In Derry city and Strabane we're playing our role in a multi-agency concern hub which is being piloted. It's anticipated this will roll out to policing districts across Northern Ireland in the coming months.

In terms of mental health and suicide, the 2015 figures for suicide deaths in Northern Ireland are the highest on record at 318 - a 19% increase on the suicides recorded in 2014. In 2015/2016 we dealt with 12,045 missing person reports. This is deeply concerning. We have been seeking a dedicated place of safety for all vulnerable adults and children and an alternative to custody being used for the detention of children and young offenders. We're also leading on a collaborative programme of work with health colleagues to provide a wraparound support service to families bereaved through suicide and liaising with the Chief Medical Officer about greater focus on prevention. We've appointed a dedicated operational lead for mental health and we're exploring mental health and vulnerability training options.

Finding more efficient, effective ways to deliver our service is an ongoing challenge. We have to live within our budget and find savings. In the last five years the police budget has been cut by over a quarter-of-a-billion pounds, which equates to salary costs of over 1,000 officers. Our police staff, who are critical to delivering policing in Northern Ireland, have also been reduced by over 300 through the voluntary exit scheme.

In addition, I've been asked by the Department of Justice to look at further cuts for next year of up to 6%, which is around £40.5m.

The debate on what a police officer's role is has to take account of budget. We have to look at what is spent on policing the present and what is spent on policing the past. Recent inspection reports from Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabularies identify that greater resource needs to be invested into investigating sexual crimes and online crimes.

The Northern Ireland Executive-sponsored Fresh Start Panel Report on the Disbandment of Paramilitary Groups in Northern Ireland recommends further investment in local policing.

The Operation Kenova investigation into the alleged activities of the individual allegedly known as 'Stakeknife' is estimated to cost £7m per year for the next five years.

Governments in both Westminster and Stormont have indicated that there is no additional money to finance this. Money spent on policing the past means it's not there to spend on policing the present.

The original debate, while poorly handled on my part, raises fundamental issues around the role of police and the role of other agencies in dealing with the complexity and vulnerability in today's society. To support a modern day police officer to deliver their duty requires a cross- Government, multi-agency response.

I look forward to political leadership delivering on the Programme for Government and providing the necessary framework through which public service is delivered.

Despite all of these challenges, the Police Service of Northern Ireland will not be walking away from protecting vulnerable people.

Belfast Telegraph


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