PSNI 'ultimate ambition' is to have force reflective of NI, says Deputy Chief Constable
Deputy Chief Constable Steven Martin has said the "ultimate ambition" of the PSNI is to have a force reflective of the Northern Ireland community and made up of even numbers of Catholic and Protestants within its ranks.
He was speaking at the final Northern Ireland Policing Board meeting of the year and after calls for the return of the recruitment practice which aimed to promote Catholic numbers in the force.
Chief Constable Simon Byrne did not rule out its resumption.
“In our broadly divided community the ultimate ambition is for 50:50 Catholic to Protestant," Deputy Chief Constable Steven Martin told the Policing Board.
The PSNI is launching a new recruitment drive in the New Year.
“There are a number of external pressures affecting our ability to recruit," DCC Martin continued.
“The threat from dissidents, legacy matters, these things are toxic to our ability to recruit from certain sections of the community. The cross spectrum support is not there yet," Mr Martin added.
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“From the PSNI perspective, we do everything we can within our organisation to create conditions for people from all communities right across Northern Ireland to see policing as a viable career.”
The PSNI will launch a more creative campaign in 2020 in a bid to drive up applications and showcase the work of the PSNI. DCC Martin said extensive meetings have been taking place involving all sections of the community.
“We have taken steps to meet with representatives and have local engagement plans across all 11 policing districts,” he told the meeting.
“For the first time we will be organising showcase events in civic spaces around the country, display events where people can see for themselves the different aspects available within police work.
“The final piece will be an independent advisory panel and that will be targeting six groups from which we are seeking to recruit new personnel; Catholics, working class loyalists, females, ethnic minority, disabled and LGBTQ.
“There have already been meetings with church leaders, influencers and with the business community on how we can better recruit to the police service.
“We are working more closely with our PR company and have looked at providing role models from each of those sections of the community to be part of our showcase events. That has been difficult in the past as those people stepping forward have become targets for attack.”
Statistics show 32% of the PSNI workforce is from the Catholic community, with 29% of the total women.
“A significant increase is needed,” said DCC Martin.
DUP Board member Mervyn Storey said his party’s opposition to 50:50 recruitment would not change.
“What we can’t have is a drive to tick boxes. The focus should be on getting the right officers employed, not the wrong officers from the right background.
“When someone calls a police officer they are not worried about what background they have. They want an officer who has the correct capabilities. We cannot lose the focus that the police service is about keeping people safe in society.”
DCC Martin maintained the new recruitment process would be a "merit-based process".
“But diversity is a really good thing,” he said.
“We want to be representative of the society we serve. That benefits us internally and also in terms of community confidence and support.”
Chief Constable Simon Byrne told the meeting that benefits of having more police officers in the community can be seen in the results of the PSNI’s Season’s Greetings campaign.
“The number of drink drive arrests is already just shy of 200, up a third on last year,” he said.
“That might be because the harder you hunt, the more you find. But we have more patrols, we’re doing early morning breath tests.
“Presence on the streets is key. It builds trust.”
But he warned that budget constraints could lead to the PSNI "living within their means" in the new financial year in a bid to reduce the cost of overtime to the service.
“There will have to be hard choices on visibility levels,” he warned. “The Season’s Greetings campaign has a pre-planned overtime element to it.
“In the summer issues over bonfires and parades left us with no choice about overtime. That has been plugging the gaps in the service.”
He also said a business plan is being prepared to deal with potential disruption over Brexit issues now that the election has clarified the situation.
“To borrow a phrase, we have an ‘oven ready plan’ in place and that is being dusted down as we speak.
“That will be finalised over the next few weeks, but we need to plan for potential protests at ports and in the border area depending on what the final Brexit deal looks lie.
“It is about turning the lens from the border to the ports, so we will be asking for people,” he said.
He added: “There is a continuing threat from dissident republicans but also potentially for ports if the arrangements are seen to be adverse to Northern Ireland.”
Mr Byrne said they are looking at the supply of body armour for potential recruits from forces in other areas of the UK.
“While we are still awaiting clarity, the service is already stretched and there are overtime concerns. We need more front line officers.”
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