Belfast Telegraph

PSNI’s border policing shopping list: 300 extra officers and four bases

By Claire McNeilly

At least four major PSNI stations will be needed in border areas to cope with a post-Brexit terror threat, the chairman of the Police Federation has warned.

Mark Lindsay said he was concerned that the introduction of a tangible border after the UK's withdrawal from the European Union will stretch a force which is already 500 officers short of what the Chief Constable said was required to effectively police Northern Ireland.

He added that while the recent U-turn over the proposed closure of Warrenpoint PSNI station was a step in the right direction, it won't allay concerns over policing arrangements when Brexit becomes a reality next year.

"We're running too light on the ground as it is, so to redeploy whatever numbers are needed along the border will leave already stretched resources even more stretched in towns and cities across Northern Ireland," Mr Lindsay said.

"Given that there's been a severe terrorist threat in Northern Ireland since 2009, it's only reasonable to expect that there will remain a small number of people who want to murder police officers; if they see an opportunity, they will do it.

"If we're deploying regularly along the border, that opportunity will present itself."

Yesterday it emerged that the PSNI will ask the Government to fund recruitment of at least 300 additional officers for operations along the border after Brexit.

Chief Constable George Hamilton told the BBC that a business case was currently being drawn up.

It is understood the police have delayed plans to sell disused stations in Aughnacloy and Castlederg in Co Tyrone, as they may have a future customs or security role.

Mr Lindsay said that decommissioned stations must be re-opened to protect the post-Brexit border and he warned that the 6,621-strong force was not adequately staffed to enforce even a soft frontier.

"If we're expecting more officers to be deployed along the border area, they need places where they can operate from," he added.

"We've already seen Warrenpoint police station closure being halted, which makes a lot of sense given that it will be a port and it's right on the border with the EU.

"I would anticipate that stations previously earmarked for closure will now need to be retained. We need at least four."

Speaking after the federation's annual conference yesterday, Mr Lindsay also raised the severe terrorist threat, the increasing number of assaults on officers, issues over resources, and deteriorating relations between his organisation and the Police Ombudsman.

He highlighted recent incidents of dissidents targeting the homes of officers in Londonderry in the hope of driving them out of the force.

"There were three or four incidents in the Creggan area about a month ago where a number of hoax devices were left at the family homes of police officers," he said.

"These are the very same people who will shoot some other people in the kneecaps for anti-social behaviour but here they are at the same sort of behaviour themselves with much more sinister intent."

Mr Lindsay said that while their families are "angry and fearful", the PSNI officers remain committed to the job.

"People don't just join the police; it is a calling," he added.

"These people certainly have the intention of intimidating the families, which in turn would deter people from wanting to join the police, or even make some people leave. But the officers who were involved are very resolute that they'll not be leaving."

Last year there was a 6% hike in the number of assaults on officers - nearly 3,000 assaults.

"People don't go to work to be assaulted or punched or kicked, or to have some serious injury inflicted on them, so why should police?" Mr Linsday added.

"It has an impact on them; sometimes some of these injuries are career changing or career ending."

He reiterated his call for tougher sentences for people who assault officers.

"If there's any sort of assault on an officer, a broader range of custodial sentences should be on the statute books," he said.

"While it's there, I don't think it's always enforced.

"Depending on the severity of the sentence, people can go to jail, but we would like it to be more commonplace - that there's an expectation that if you assault a police officer you should go to jail."

Mr Lindsay also said relations with the police watchdog "have never been worse".

"If officers make complaints - either against people who have made malicious complaints against them or where they feel that the investigation into them has been shoddy - there should be an independent body under the Department of Justice or the judicial system where police officers do have redress," he said.

"We should be able to take a prosecution against people for wasting time. It's ridiculous that people can make a complaint against a police officer and put their whole career on hold for absolutely no reason."

Belfast Telegraph

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