| 5.7°C Belfast

People want police near, not far away... but new reality is the books have to balance

The signal for the new, "leaner" police service was in a briefing delivered back in January.

Then the Assistant Chief Constable Stephen Martin spelled out the implications of budget cuts and restructuring.

There would be 11 new districts matching up with the new council boundaries.

In today's economic climate the talk, not just in policing but across the board, is about how resources are best used in an efficient and effective way.

There is no loose change and there won't be a police officer now on every corner or a station in every town centre.

I passed one of those stations yesterday with a notice on the front gate that it was no longer open to the public. This is the new reality.

Policing is not a walk-in service.

In that briefing in January ACC Martin, who has responsibility for district policing, sought to give reassurance.

Neighbourhood policing would be the core of the service and "when people need us we will be there", he said.

But communities want police officers nearby, where they can see them, not far away. It is like the local hospital.

But the books have to balance.

And, as spending cuts bite, so it will become harder to deliver what people want within those tighter budgets.

George Hamilton stepped in as Chief Constable having to cut the police cloth to fit with the new financial realities.

Policing is still a tug-of-war between past and present.

Hamilton has stated his priority - to keep people safe in the here-and-now.

Money and time are being swallowed in legacy investigations, in the constant journeys back into the past.

And, a year into office, Hamilton is keen to see the agreed legacy mechanisms in place, including the Historical Investigations Unit that will take over responsibility for the millions of documents in the police vault.

These are things he is likely to focus on when he shares a stage with Martin McGuinness at an event at the West Belfast Festival tomorrow evening.

Hamilton wants the past out of today's policing.

And, when that happens, perhaps then the PSNI can focus on the present.

But the policing model will still be that leaner version, leaving the general public asking questions about how close or how far away that nearest neighbourhood or local police team is.

Belfast Telegraph