Northern Ireland police chief 'gravely concerned' by crime statistics over last three years
Police are working to address the number of offenders who go on to commit further crimes while on bail, a senior officer has said.
Chief Superintendent John McCaughan said each offence was a matter of "grave concern". He was speaking after an investigation by this newspaper found people on bail were linked to more than 30,000 crimes in three years.
He told the Belfast Telegraph: "Clearly the figures themselves are not inconsequential and how we manage the risks posed by persons on bail - in terms of offending in general but more specifically around causing severe harm, physical or otherwise - is something we are keeping under constant review.
"Not everybody who is placed on bail by police subsequently becomes a convicted criminal. Bail is used to manage certain situations throughout the investigative process by the police.
"Clearly the numbers themselves are relatively high in terms of persons suspected or connected to criminal offences and that, allied with a couple of high profile incidents, has focused our minds on how we can manage risks posed by people on bail.
"My colleagues in District Policing Command are working on bringing standard practice and procedure in how the risks around persons on bail are managed in terms of the flow of information to allow effective decision making."
Between April 2014 and April 2017, people on bail were behind 30,902 crimes, including murder, rape, arson and robbery.
Chief Supt McCaughan said the PSNI learns from mistakes and shortcomings where they occur.
He added: "I understand how that would appear to the community and clearly there have been times when people commit very serious crimes while on bail and that is of grave concern to us.
"On every occasion that happened, we take a very cold approach to reviewing what we can do better to manage that.
"We learn and seek to learn from any incident where there may have been shortcomings or perceived failings by the PSNI to ensure that our practice and procedure improves as a result of that.
"Decision making is undertaken by humans and it's taken against the information available to police at the relevant time as to whether that person should be granted bail. We have to justify every restriction, it must be no more than necessary to achieve the lawful objective.
"Each of these decisions is a critical one and there is an awful lot of thought being put into them.
"In the history of the PSNI we believe every single decision we have made is watertight and appropriate - it couldn't be when human beings are involved but they are done with the best of intentions against the information we have.
"We learn from all incidents to see if there is anything we can do differently."
Chief Supt McCaughan said the default position is that suspects should be released on bail.
He explained that depriving someone of their liberty was a very serious step, and had to be justified fully.
He said PSNI practices are under "constant review" as to how they manage people on bail
"That's done on a prioritised risk-focused basis and risks posed by individuals," he added.
"The public need to be aware that there are systems in place that deal with convicted sex offenders and the risk posed by certain violent offenders.
"The management of convicted sex offenders and violent offenders is used under the existing process PPANI (public protection arrangements in Northern Ireland). It's a partnership approach taken by the PSNI, probation board and the prison service, working together in managing those risks."