Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: Tough times ahead for next police chief

Outgoing PSNI Chief Constable George Hamilton (Niall Carson/PA)
Outgoing PSNI Chief Constable George Hamilton (Niall Carson/PA)
Editor's Viewpoint

Editor's Viewpoint

The restoration of the Policing Board following an absence of two years, after the Secretary of State introduced new legislation to allow it to operate again, is a welcome development.

However, the information revealed at yesterday's meeting will make uncomfortable reading for whoever takes over as Chief Constable from present incumbent George Hamilton.

The PSNI is a force under considerable strain in terms of resources and finances, and is faced with an ever lengthening list of policing imperatives.

It is not just business leaders and farmers who are deeply concerned about the uncertainty over what sort of Brexit will take place on March 29.

A special team has been set up to plan for various eventualities and the implications of those for the force.

As the Chief Constable said, Brexit could affect operational policing, not only guarding the border in the event of a no-deal exit, but also continuing cooperation with other police forces, exchange of intelligence and dealing with European Arrest Warrants.

Already the force has delayed the decommissioning of a number of police stations along the border.

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Then there is the ongoing dissident republican threat, including punishment beatings and shootings and the recent planting of a car bomb in Londonderry, showing the determination of the terrorists to continue their nihilistic campaign.

Loyalist paramilitaries continue to flex their muscles in an exercise of control over the areas in which they operate, most recently resulting in the barbaric murder of Ian Ogle in east Belfast.

All these challenges come on top of policing the present and investigating the past, at a time when the PSNI has much diminished resources.

The policing budget has been reduced by £150m in the past five years and 366 officers and 124 staff have left the force in the past year. It will be autumn before new recruits will join the force.

The austerity measures the force has endured have meant a less visible presence, particularly in rural areas.

This newspaper revealed last year that the number of police stations in the province had been reduced by two thirds in the last 20 years. Even allowing for the more peaceful environment, that is a huge reduction, and an early restoration of devolution would help give the PSNI at least some of the additional funding it requires to become a more effective force.

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