Police leader condemns demo tactics
A policing union boss has criticised PSNI tactics used to deal with violent loyalist street protests.
Terry Spence, chairman of the Police Federation for Northern Ireland, said police officers should not be used as cannon fodder and claimed the early use of plastic bullets could have prevented them being pelted by potentially lethal missiles during intense rioting.
He said: "There has been a tactical failure in how we first handled these public order confrontations.
"Much of our initial difficulty and injuries can be attributed to us slavishly following the Association of Chief Police Officers' guidelines on tactics to be deployed in the use of baton rounds in public order confrontations.
"To put it bluntly, we were policing public order in Northern Ireland according to guidelines more appropriate for the rest of the United Kingdom."
Since July last year, 448 PSNI officers have been injured as a result of public order - 136 were hurt during disorder that flared since December following Belfast City Council's decision to limit the number of days it flies the Union flag.
Mr Spence, whose organisation represents 7,000 police officers up to the rank of chief inspector, said those on the front line during the flag disputes were battered with iron bars, axes and concrete slabs, which left them with broken bones, dislocated shoulders and severe bruising. Tough action should be taken to tackle troublemakers, he claimed.
He said: "What is needed to subdue or prevent public confrontation is the early and rapid deployment of AEP baton rounds. The sight of AEPs tends to concentrate the minds of potential rioters. Their early use keeps rioters at sufficient distance to prevent an array of sometimes deadly missiles bombarding officers from every direction."
In a wide-ranging speech to the Police Federation's annual conference, Mr Spence also called for robust action against the UVF in east Belfast; mature political leadership during the contentious marching season; the recruitment of more police officers; and a pay rise for all police.
Up to 80 delegates including Northern Ireland's Justice Minister David Ford, members of the Northern Ireland Policing Board, PSNI senior management, the Criminal Justice Inspectorate and the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland attended the event at Belfast's La Mon Hotel.