PSNI Chief Constable Baggott pushes on with normalisation of policing
Chief Constable Matt Baggott is taking the biggest gamble of his career by going ahead with the normalisation of policing in Northern Ireland at a time when dissident republicans have extended their list of targets, it has been warned.
Mr Baggott is regarded as the architect of the national strategy of neighbourhood policing and is keen to release officers from “non-police duties” and move them out into the “front-line” — a key component of the Patten reforms for peace-time policing.
Part of these normalisation plans, the Belfast Telegraph has learned, is the privatisation of sections of the PSNI’s security work, such as the escorting of explosives to commercial quarries. This escort work is currently carried out by police officers but it is understood that Mr Baggott is planning to hand it over to a private security firm.
It can also be revealed that dissidents have added police contract workers to their list of targets, along with judges, civilian PSNI staff and police officers’ families.
The Chief Constable’s biggest decision so far has been to phase out the full-time reserve, a decision made knowing that many of those same officers were to be at the forefront of plans to reintroduce personal protection arrangements for Northern Ireland’s judges.
Following discussions with his senior management team Mr Baggott said yesterday he believes there is no operational need to keep the FTR and that he is confident the PSNI “can deal with the very real and serious security threat and still deliver personal professional policing in a way which our communities expect from us”.
Mr Baggott’s background in neighbourhood policing impressed the Northern Ireland Policing Board, with the interview panel focusing on community and neighbourhood policing, while terrorism and organised crime played little part. At the time of Mr Baggott’s appointment board chairman Barry Gilligan said of him: “He has been a champion of policing in the community that goes to the very core of what this Policing Board is all about.”
But since Mr Baggott’s arrival in the province the security situation appears to have deteriorated with dissident republicans extending their list of legitimate targets. Up to 80 PSNI officers have been drafted in to guard judges and other senior legal figures because of the growing risk of terrorist attack.
The PSNI is also now concerned about the safety of all its civilian employees, including clerical and administrative staff, and has made a film outlining the potential dangers they face.
And it appears that contractors may also now be a terrorist target. The Belfast Telegraph has learned that a contractor carrying out work at a local police station was the target of a security alert in north Belfast in September after a device was discovered close to his car.
Family members of police officers have also been more actively targeted in recent months.
The “severe” terrorist threat has led to speculation that forging ahead with complete normalisation of policing in the current climate may be “premature”.
“This is a highly dangerous gamble that the Chief Constable is taking,” said DUP Policing Board member Jimmy Spratt.
“I think it is a very premature move and a gamble that in any way diminishes the service should not be taken,”
However, a senior police source said Mr Baggott is doing exactly what he was brought in by the Policing Board to do
“The Policing Board wanted someone to push through their vision of normal policing in a normal society. They wanted someone who could bring neighbourhood policing to Northern Ireland and that is what the Chief Constable is doing. The Chief Constable is better briefed about the security situation in Northern Ireland than all these commentators. People need to put their trust in him.”