Retiring chair of officers’ union says that unless things change new recruits ‘will quickly realise the job just isn’t worth it’
The outgoing chair of the Police Federation has said without vocal political support for the PSNI, young officers will continue to leave the force.
Mark Lindsay was speaking as he announced his retirement from the body that represents rank and file officers after seven years, and from the PSNI after 34 years in policing.
He said while sad to be leaving it was the right time for him to move on.
“It’s almost like a chain being lifted, because I’ve made the decision and there’s no going back on it now,” he said.
“There’s an awful lot happening at the moment, and I’ve done my best, some things have worked out and some haven’t, but organisations do need change every so often.”
He said he thought it was “my time after 34 years in the police that I look at maybe doing something else”.
“I’ve a few things I’m looking at and I want to do some charity work. I think my wife is fairly adamant that I’ll be doing something,” he said.
“I know the direction now I’m going, there’s an end date and that will allow the transition to take place.
“There will be a new chair elected in April and there’ll be a bit of a hand over and then I’ll go, possibly after the conference in May.
“At some point you have just hand over to someone else. There are loads of things from a personal perspective that I’d love to keep doing but actually I really need to step away completely.”
Mr Lindsay said the unresolved problems around legacy were the biggest challenges facing policing and there were issues with how the Police Ombudsman was compiling reports into the RUC handling of Troubles cases.
Marie Anderson released a damning report earlier this week, saying there was “collusive behaviour” in RUC Special Branch’s handling of 11 murders in south Belfast.
“The biggest challenges were probably legacy,” Mr Lindsay said.
“It is poisoning society and certainly impacting on modern policing.
“The PONI reports – there are issues around some of the content, they are uncomfortable reading for some people, but also the very nature of the evidential threshold of some of what she is saying. There are issues.”
Politically he said police felt let down by elected representatives.
“Colleagues feel there is no political support, deep support for what they do,” he said.
“They’ve had 10 years of minimal or no pay rises.
“We’ve seen how society generally treats a lot of them when they are on the streets.
“We also see how going forward there are plans to take over £200m out of the budget.
“That just shows a total lack of understanding and disrespect for people who are out there day and daily – being spat on, being injured, being assaulted, being vilified in the public domain – who are basically doing their best for society.
“Because that’s why I joined, to help people – not to cause people problems but to help them.
“The more you stretch an under-resourced force people will either make mistakes or not carry out duties to the standard expected.
“And they are put straight into the dock of public opinion. I think we’ve seen unfair trial by media or social media that takes place without due process.
“That’s a very difficult thing for people to work with.”
In his final weeks in the job he said he would be pushing for better mental health provision.
“There’s a lot of stress and a lot of strain on people, obviously with budgets there seems to be a slimmer chance of anything being done.
“But these things need to be done otherwise people are going to come into the job and realise quite quickly that it’s just not worth it.”
Mr Lindsay said he was “immeasurably grateful to be the first Chair of the organisation since it came into being 51 years ago not to have to follow the coffins of colleagues murdered in the line of duty, and this speaks volumes for the journey we have all been on”.
“Within the PFNI, we have undergone considerable restructuring to enable us to better respond to the needs of our rank-and-file members.
“We have articulated the case on pay, recruitment, resources, legacy, pensions and, when it was required, on shortcomings and failings within the PSNI, always with strength, integrity and conviction.
“I am particularly proud of the PFNI £1m wellbeing programme, which we launched in 2016 to help officers enduring a range of psychological conditions that the PSNI was not resourced to handle.
“It gave practical help to hundreds of hard-pressed officers and assisted them to return to duty.
“Much more work needs to be done in addressing the mental health crisis in policing, which not only affects serving officers but also our retired colleagues long into retirement.”
Mr Lindsay described being “genuinely privileged” to have served as a police officer since 1987 and then the chair of the PFNI organisation.
“Our society is more diverse than ever and as policing strives to be more representative of our communities, we all need to work hard to realise that it is not just as straightforward as our traditionally viewed binary society based on religious background,” he added.
“The PFNI does some sterling work on behalf of our members and I believe I am leaving it in good fettle for my successor.
“I shall miss the camaraderie, friendship and commitment that is a big part of the job, but it is now time to hand over the reins of office and wish my colleagues well as they continue to give all PSNI officers strong leadership in the years ahead.”