Police are urged to rethink Northern Ireland station closure plans
The PSNI have been accused of withdrawing from dissident republican strongholds as police chiefs consider the future of the north-west's only 24-hour police station.
Strand Road station in Londonderry is under threat of becoming a part-time station, leaving Musgrave Street in Belfast the only full-time base in Northern Ireland.
Dissident republicans have launched numerous attacks in the Derry area in recent months, including the attempted murder of a police officer at her home.
The PSNI was last night urged to rethink any plans to "cull visible policing" in the area.
"The dissident threat appears to be higher in this area than other parts of Northern Ireland so it would be a cause for concern should Strand Road station no longer be a 24-hour station," said DUP MLA Gary Middleton.
Some of the most recent dissident attacks in the area include the explosion of a bomb in a bin, the discovery of a bomb under the car of a police officer and a bomb explosion outside a probation office. "There is a real perception out there that police are taking a step back, withdrawing. People have already been feeling vulnerable following the closure of rural stations and talk of reduced police numbers. Any further cuts would be devastating to public confidence," said Mr Middleton.
The Belfast Telegraph revealed yesterday that more than 20 stations are under threat of closure or having their opening hours slashed in a bid to meet multi-million pound budget cuts. This follows a major sell-off of the police estate in recent years.
Police chiefs have insisted that despite the closure of stations and reduction in opening hours, "policing remains a 24-hour, seven days a week operation".
As the PSNI attempts to deal with budget cuts of more than £40m this year alone, neighbourhood policing teams are also being reduced and replaced by cost-cutting local policing teams. The PSNI has also warned that an increasing number of calls that are deemed to be "non-emergency" will be dealt with on the telephone.
David McNarry MLA accused the PSNI of "distancing" themselves from the public. "The assurances once provided by the visible 'Bobby on the beat' aren't there any more. I can't help but think that the PSNI are perhaps not intentionally, but strategically distancing themselves from the public view," the Ukip politician said.
The PSNI have said the changes are necessary to deal with significant budget pressures and a reduction in officers and staff.
Assistant Chief Constable Stephen Martin has said that while policing is changing, the policing purpose remains the same. "Keeping people safe is still our main priority and we will continue to do this by preventing harm, protecting the vulnerable and detecting offenders," Mr Martin said.