PSNI chief Matt Baggott hasn’t given up on plan to use armed civil guards
Chief Constable Matt Baggott is hoping to convince the Policing Board to agree to the recruitment of armed civilian guards to help him free up hundreds of officers to tackle the dissidents, despite the plan being vetoed by members last month.
As terrorist activity continues to grow — with security alerts on an almost daily basis — along with looming budget constraints, Mr Baggott wants to bring in the civilian guards to protect terrorist targets and police stations across Northern Ireland so that he can free up more than 400 officers and allow them to return to frontline policing.
It is thought the move could also save the force £5 million per year.
The terrorist threat has meant that officers are back guarding stations and an increased number are being taken from frontline duties to protect public figures like judges and politicians. A large portion of this work is currently being carried out by members of the Full Time Reserve — but, with it due to be disbanded early next year, regular officers will have to provide the cover.
Last month a majority of Policing Board members voted against the civilian guards proposal.
A police source said, however, that Mr Baggott has not given up on his plan and intends to keep lobbying board members “until they see that this is the sensible way forward”.
Policing Board member Jimmy Spratt said that, when the reserve is disbanded in March, the Chief Constable will have to take 200 to 300 officers away from community policing to carry out guard duties and close protection work. This will be in addition to officers already engaged in these duties.
Mr Spratt said that tying officers up on duties that could be performed by civilians not only means less police out tackling the dissidents, but will also lead to fewer officers in neighbourhoods engaging with communities and reducing everyday crime.
The DUP man accused Policing Board members who opposed the move last month of “putting politics before good policing”.
“Civilian guards are already employed by police services as support in other areas and the precedent has already been set at military bases all over the world. It would be more cost-effective, freeing up lots of police personnel and saving money,” said Mr Spratt.
He added: “All these civilian employees would have to undergo background checks the same as any other PSNI employee and be fully trained as bodyguards and security guards. This would be an extremely important move.
“Given the dissident threat on one side, and the desire right across the board that community policing continues at the level it is now at, this is the sensible way forward.”
The guards would patrol police stations and do some lower level close protection work.