Arlene Foster has paid tribute to police officers as she marked the 50th anniversary of the founding of the part time reserve force.
The DUP leader was speaking during a visit to the police memorial garden at PSNI headquarters in Belfast.
She took part in a service attended by PSNI Deputy Chief Constable Mark Hamilton, Mark Lindsay, chair of the Police Federation in Northern Ireland, and Stephen White, of the RUC George Cross Foundation.
Today @PoliceServiceNI marks the 50th Anniversary of Part Time Reserve Officers. I want to express my sincere thanks to all those brave officers, past & present who made a commitment to serve the community. pic.twitter.com/9ZmmUCnp6A— Simon Byrne (@ChiefConPSNI) June 1, 2020
The part time reserves were set up in 1970 at the start of the conflict in Northern Ireland to support the regular RUC members in response to the growing threat from paramilitaries.
Fifty-two part time reserve officers died and hundreds suffered physical and psychological injuries during their service.
Nine were killed after they left the service.
Mrs Foster laid a wreath in memory of the fallen and paid tribute to those who continue to serve.
“Nine thousand people have served but unfortunately some of them gave their lives for all of the people of Northern Ireland and I think it is very important we mark that,” she said.
“We also thank those who continue to serve in the part time reserves because we know they do a lot of very good work across Northern Ireland and we’re very proud of them.”
Earlier, Mr Lindsay said the part time police reservists are “owed a deep debt of gratitude”.
“They knew that by putting on the uniform they would become a target for terrorists,” he said.
Marking 50th anniversary of the Part Time Reserve, with an early morning visit to the RUCGC memorial garden with @ChiefConPSNI. Remembering 52 murdered in service and 9 murdered post service. Immense contribution by them all to community policing. @NIPolicingBoard @naomi_long pic.twitter.com/T7exiKQb9g— Police Federation for Northern Ireland (@PoliceFedforNI) June 1, 2020
“It is a measure of their courage and commitment that they stepped forward to serve during dark and dreadful days.
“These brave officers had day jobs and were then prepared to turn out for their shift as part time reserve officers. We owe them a deep debt of gratitude.
“The 50th anniversary of the part time reserve, which became part of the Royal Ulster Constabulary on June 1 1970, is an occasion to reflect on the service they gave and the losses they suffered”.
Mr Lindsay added: “Today, the part time reserve is a small part of the PSNI with just 245 officers and the organisation is looking at a more defined role for them within the new neighbourhood policing approach.”
PSNI Chief Constable Simon Byrne paid tribute to serving officers and those who had lost their lives.
He said he also remembered the many hundreds more who suffered physical and mental injuries, often life-changing.