Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: Public crying out for visible police service

No one would envy PSNI Chief Constable George Hamilton his job in these times of austerity. Since he took over the role in 2014 he has had to make more than £100m in cuts to the budget of the force.

And if you go back further to 2004, some £389m has been taken out of the funding for the PSNI.

Inevitably this has meant cutting the number of officers.

When Chris Patten drew up his policing reforms here he suggested that the new PSNI should have a complement of 7,500. A review in 2014 recommended a minimum of 7,000 officers to ensure a resilient force.

Today the strength of the PSNI is 6,711. The results are evident. As far as the public is concerned the most worrying development is the lack of officers on the beat.

After the burglary in Aughnacloy last week, during which an elderly woman was critically injured when she fell from an upstairs window, local people complained about the scarcity of police patrols in rural border areas.

Since the Good Friday Agreement in 1998 some 69 police stations in Northern Ireland have been closed and a significant number of others only operate on a part-time basis. An improving security situation was a major factor in some of the closures, but many were shut in a direct attempt to save money.

The PSNI may argue that it is finding new, smarter ways to carry out its duties given the financial constraints it faces, but that does little to instil confidence in the public, which gains greatest reassurance from the sight of officers on patrol.

Under previous Chief Constable Matt Baggott neighbourhood policing was a priority policy but, ironically, it has been the neighbourhood policing teams which have suffered the most severe cuts, being reduced to around a third of previous strength.

It has to be accepted that the PSNI still faces serious threats from dissident republicans and that tackling paramilitaries and organised crime gangs takes up significant resources.

Yet it is the day-to-day crime such as burglaries, assaults, thefts and car crime which impacts most on the public consciousness. The majority of people feel that if they report such a crime the response will be painfully slow and the detection rate low.

Police are using technology like social media to appeal for public support, but the public would rather see officers face-to-face than on Facebook.

Belfast Telegraph

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