Belfast Telegraph

Number of police stations reduced by two-thirds in 20 years in Northern Ireland

 

By Stewart Robson

The number of police stations in Northern Ireland has been slashed by two-thirds in the last two decades, it has emerged.

Ninety-four of 141 have closed their doors since November 1999, PSNI figures show.

These include 10 in Belfast, with just over half of the remaining 11 stations in the city allowing public access.

The details were disclosed to the News Letter after a Freedom of Information request.

The figures also show a reduction in almost 1,800 full-time officers in the same period, averaging a loss of nearly seven officers a month.

The number of full-time officers has dropped from 8,485 in 1997 to 6,688 in January this year.

Seventeen out of the 47 operating stations are not open to the public at all, with only Musgrave station in Belfast city centre publicly accessible 24 hours a day. Mark Lindsay, the chairperson of the Police Federation, which represents rank-and-file officers, said he was far more concerned about the loss in manpower than the closure of police buildings.

Mr Lindsay said: "We understand the need to instil public confidence by having a visible presence, but a police station with a light on and no one in attendance was not effective reassurance." The PSNI reinforced Mr Lindsay's statement by emphasising how policing had changed in recent years.

It added that stations had become less of a necessity than they may once have been.

Assistant Chief Constable Alan Todd explained: "The number of stations has changed considerably over recent years, but so too has the way policing operates.

"Policing today isn't about buildings; it is about officers who are working with the community in order to protect them, prevent crime and detect criminals.

"Nearly all policing services are now delivered outside of stations. Surveys show that footfall to police stations has greatly reduced as people choose to access our services in different ways."

Ex-RUC officer Jimmy Spratt, a former DUP MLA, said that during his experiences at the height of the Troubles a station was used as a "safe haven", but administrative functions had now been moved to centralised locations.

Mr Spratt said: "Some people don't like it - but policing evolves."

Assistant Chief Constable Todd added that the public was now engaging and getting in contact with the PSNI through digital platforms such as Twitter and Facebook.

However, despite a change in the approach to how the police are contacted, the social media accounts are not monitored 24/7.

The PSNI said: "We advise the public to report crime via the non-emergency number 101, or 999 in an emergency, which they can do at any time of the day or night."

As part of its 2016 estate strategy, the PSNI sold off 12 of its buildings as they were no longer required for daily policing business.

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