The PSNI should never have been asked to enforce Covid restrictions, the head of Northern Ireland's Police Federation has said, adding implementing of the health guidelines had severely damaged community policing.
As chairman of the organisation that represents the rank-and-file officers, Mark Lindsay added the language being used by some politicians in relation to policing in recent days had damaged the morale of members.
Policing has been in the spotlight since the Public Prosecution Service announced there would be no charges linked to the funeral of Bobby Storey last June.
DUP leader Arlene Foster has called on Chief Constable Simon Byrne to resign, saying his position is "untenable". TUV leader Jim Allister went one step further, claiming there was "apparent collusion" between the PSNI and Sinn Fein during the planning of the funeral.
Mr Lindsay said: "I would be saying to the politicians: be careful of the language you use.
"I think where we are now is a situation where policing is constantly under attack, whether that be more junior officers on the street or whether that be command.
"Any political comment which tends to pit police against one community in favour of another community is always very dangerous in our society.
"Right now anyone who is part of the organisation feels completely under the cosh, we feel we can't do right for doing wrong. That goes for the ordinary constable on the street to those involved in other areas of policing."
Mr Lindsay said officers felt they should never have been responsible for policing the health regulations, and the enforcement of Covid restrictions had damaged their relationship with the community.
He added: "This was never a role for the PSNI to carry out, this should have been dealt with properly by the Executive at the start. The powers should have been given to councils with enforcement wardens put in place, but certainly taken away from policing.
"There's been so much investment into community policing, into neighbourhood policing. To then have the police confronting people for what is basically seen as an infringement of their human rights, albeit for their own health protection, that has really damaged policing.
"We are seeing the outworkings of that. All the crises that have come up in the last year have all been to do with Covid, whether it's been around people being stopped on a beach or around funerals."
In giving an explanation for the decision on the Storey funeral, the PPS said the ever-changing nature of the legislation made it confusing and at times contradictory.
"The legislation changed very frequently around the end of last year. No one could keep up with it," said Mr Lindsay.
"The PPS have now said it was confusing. If the PPS cannot work their way through it, then obviously the PSNI will find it difficult as well.
"It was very quickly drawn up, and we all know the reason why that was the case. But it was almost like the politicians thought 'we've done our bit now and we can move on', and left the police to try and work out the minutiae of it.
"For instance, the powers of entry (into a private property) were so weak they didn't exist, so unless there were other offences being committed police didn't have the power. There were conversations at the time and officers were assured there were powers of entry, when there weren't.
"And our officers are the people on the ground trying to interpret that. Those flaws are then exposed whenever there is a challenge from the public."
Mr Lindsay said relations had been damaged across the spectrum, including with Black Lives Matter protesters, and unionist and nationalist communities. He added: "Everyone seems to have a story of how they feel harm has been done to their community through policing of the Covid regulations.
"I've spoken to many officers around this and they feel totally demoralised. The overwhelming opinion I get is no matter what they do they are being undermined, whether that be from politicians, or from within communities, or whether it be from senior command."
He said there was a feeling officers did not get the support they need around some issues they really needed backing on.
He added while he did not think anyone would fail to do their duty, "there is this fear at the back of their minds that if they are perceived to having done it differently to how someone else may have handled it, that they will be suspended or dealt with in a very punitive manner".
"That's not a good place to be in and is certainly not good for morale of police, who already feel undermined and demoralised", he said.