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US police could learn lessons from reform of RUC: Patten official

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Suggestion: Kathleen O’Toole

Suggestion: Kathleen O’Toole

Suggestion: Kathleen O’Toole

A former United States police officer who worked with the Patten Commission has said police forces stateside should look to us for lessons on reform.

Kathleen O'Toole, who once lived here, insisted the current social unrest engulfing America following the killing of African-American George Floyd could be tackled by implementing a similar process that occurred in Northern Ireland two decades ago.

Mr Floyd's death has prompted calls by the Black Lives Matter movement to demand the defunding - or dismantling - of police forces in America.

In an article for the Washington Post, co-written by Robert Peirce, an international policing consultant who was secretary of the Independent Commission on Policing for Northern Ireland during the 1990s, she argues the history of the Troubles should pave the way forward to heal divisions.

The Patten Commission led to the creation of the PSNI following the disbandment of the RUC.

"Finding common ground on a way forward may seem a tall order amid calls for dismantling or "defunding" police departments on one side, and reflexive defense of the police and fear of anarchy on another," they said.

"We encountered very similar sentiments in Northern Ireland while working on a commission to develop a new beginning for policing in that sharply divided society, following the 1998 peace agreement."

They continued: "The agreement followed three decades of sectarian violence in which thousands of people were killed.

"The conflict... was between a historically disadvantaged and alienated Catholic minority community and a politically dominant Protestant majority.

"For many in the minority community the police were seen as an occupying force and instruments of majority oppression - feelings shared by many in black communities throughout the United States."

The pair recall when they started working on policing here it was the "most contentious issue".

They added: "One side called for disbanding the police, while the other argued strongly to keep the security apparatus in place.

"Our answer was to ask the people what kind of policing they wanted. We then created the framework to deliver it. The PSNI is a transformed organisation now, professional and accountable, with broad cross-community support.

"If Northern Ireland can agree a way forward on policing, so can we."

Belfast Telegraph