Belfast Telegraph

PSNI cuts result in 1,000 fewer officers on the beat

By Brett Campbell

The number of bobbies on the beat here dropped by more than 1,000 in a single year due to "drastic" budget cuts, which the Police Federation of Northern Ireland (PFNI) has claimed now total £386m since 2004.

The overall number of PSNI officers here has fallen by 8% since 2012 but Neighbourhood Policing Teams appear to have borne the brunt of cutbacks.

According to the BBC's Shared Data Unit, more than three quarters of Neighbourhood Police Officers have disappeared since 2012 with the number plummeting from 1,332 to just 303 in 2016. It rose slightly to 311 last year.

Overall there are currently 6,711 uniformed officers in the PSNI but Mark Lindsay, chairperson of the PFNI, has warned there are not enough police officers here.

"When you take more than £350 million out of the budget, there's an inevitability that services will be adversely affected," he said.

"There's also a knock-on impact on officers' health and well-being as the service tries to do more with less.

"They are working long hours and have real problems with rest days and leave which in turn places pressure on family life. We need hundreds more officers to deliver the range of policing services the public has a right to expect."

The head of the Police Federation, which represents the PSNI rank-and-officers, also warned the number of officers falls well below the 7,500 recommended in the Patten Report, and is less than the 7,000 which a 2014 review of strength levels concluded was the minimum number needed for a resilient force.

"The public want the reassurance of seeing officers who will respond quickly to calls for help on our streets," he added.

Assistant Chief Constable Alan Todd - who acknowledged the current number of officers "falls significantly short" of what was envisaged in the Patten Report - said the BBC data does not take account of structural changes which saw the introduction of Local Policing Teams in 2014/15.

He said the "inevitable" reduction actually amounts to between 3-5% and stressed that the overall rate of crime has been at its "lowest ever level".

But Mr Todd also confirmed the number of local police officers has also fallen from 3,664 to 3,585 and is projected to drop again to 3,407.

"The policing budget has been reduced by £139.7m over the last four years, and further cuts are predicted of between £12-18m in the next financial year, with more cuts likely to be made in the future," he said

Mr Todd said the increase of cases which require a specialist response - including unfunded legacy investigations - coupled with cuts has had a "double impact" on neighbourhood-based policing services, but that the PSNI is investing in technology designed to improve how it operates.

"We are also currently considering combining a range of functions within local policing in order to give more prominence to Neighbourhood Policing Teams and redefining the roles they perform, in line with our 'Policing with the Community' ethos," he added.

Former justice minister David Ford has called for adequate resources to ensure neighbourhood police teams continue their "vital" role in fighting serious organised crime.

"The PSNI have many new issues to deal with such as cyber-crime and the continuing threat from paramilitary-linked crime, however it is important to ensure they do not lose contact with local communities," he said. "Public confidence is enhanced by seeing police on the ground engaging with local people - resources must be provided to ensure those contacts are maintained."

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