Belfast Telegraph

Police recruitment 'has been hit by Stormont collapse'

By Allan Preston

The collapse of Stormont has made the recruitment of permanent police staff more difficult, a senior officer has said.

Deputy Chief Constable Drew Harris said he still doesn't know what budget the PSNI will receive for the coming financial year at the end of this month.

He was speaking about the force's £40m-plus annual spend on overtime.

Some PSNI workers added more than £40,000 to their salary - but Mr Harris stressed this related to a "very few" highly-skilled officers, such as firearms specialists.

"In the last four years we've taken £160m out of the police budget so against that uncertainty it's difficult to keep your recruitment going," Mr Harris told the Belfast Telegraph.

"We're always proceeding at some risk as we don't have the financial security you would expect for our business, in which we employ almost 10,000 people.

"The skills and staff mix (including officers, support staff and agency workers) is very difficult to make year to year, we're making assumptions."

Mr Harris expects officer numbers to drop by 100 in the next financial year, leaving around 6,600. The Chief Constable George Hamilton has previously stated he needs 7,000 officers to police Northern Ireland effectively.

The Police Federation of Northern Ireland has predicted an even sharper drop of 10% in the next year, leaving 6,000 officers, with those resigning looking for less stressful roles and to maximise their pension.

Finding new officers, DCC Harris explains, isn't the problem, with around 7,000 applicants for the latest recruitment drive, from which he expects 300-400 will be successful.

"We're pleased about that, it remains a good job," he added.

Mr Harris stressed that officers with overtime claims of £40,000 or more were in the minority.

"There's very few officers in that situation. They are specialist officers who are dealing with the most serious type of criminality," he added.

"That may be in respect of organised crime or it may be thwarting terrorism like dissident republican groups."

He insisted the overtime meant officers would be on call 24 hours a day.

"The issue isn't just about another pair of hands, it's about who is skilled and ready for the job.

"We don't have a complete organisation where everyone is a specialist firearms officer."

Despite the cutbacks, he says demands on police have become greater and more complex while still managing a severe threat level.

"A lot of the money has been spent specifically on operations to keep people here in Northern Ireland, and the island of Ireland, safe and we've had situations we've regarded as life-threatening to individuals," Mr Harris added.

In the past five years issues like the flags protest, the G8 summit, the Twaddell protest and the UK raising its threat level to critical have all increased the demand for overtime.

Recently, a spate of attacks against the elderly in their own homes - such as the attempted murder of Aughnacloy pensioner Pat Davidson - has led to demands for increased community policing.

Belfast Telegraph

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