Belfast Telegraph

PSNI officers are pawns to be sacrificed by their political kings

By Brian Rowan

The senior police officer used the description of moving pieces on a chessboard.

Some of those pieces will undoubtedly be neighbourhood cops - officers who will be needed elsewhere.

This is one of the realities of a budget squeeze, a financial consequence that will play into what has come to be known and described as "personal policing".

Those two words are an important part of the post-Patten vocabulary. That was the report that introduced sweeping reforms, turning the RUC into the PSNI. New politics and a developing peace would mean the police could get closer to the people.

Policing with the community is a philosophy and a component of that is neighbourhood cops – the officers whose names and faces are known on the streets they patrol.

Of course, there are places where that is still not possible. Some of the most carefully considered moves on that policing chessboard are still about protecting officers against a dissident threat.

That threat is still assessed as severe – as highlighted in a recent arms find, and in other incidents when a device was thrown at police in north Belfast and followed by an attempt to lure officers into a trap elsewhere.

So resources have to be prioritised. Police have to be where they are needed most. And, in those moves, neighbourhood policing will suffer.

Neighbourhood policing and community initiatives will be reduced and in some places removed.

A much tighter squeeze is expected next year. This is why Chief Constable George Hamilton spoke recently about the PSNI becoming unrecognisable.

New policing is not just about cops. It is about having good politics, and a mood on the ground that allows the police and the people to get to know each other. You need the money to do that.

So, the latest talks at Stormont are not just about politics.

They are about policing and about people.

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