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There cannot be change unless we deal with the past

Simon Byrne


A fleet of BMW police vehicles on show during the launch by the PSNI of the new Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) Intercept Team in Lisburn (PA)

A fleet of BMW police vehicles on show during the launch by the PSNI of the new Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) Intercept Team in Lisburn (PA)

A fleet of BMW police vehicles on show during the launch by the PSNI of the new Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) Intercept Team in Lisburn (PA)

As 2020 draws to a close, all of us will be reflecting on a year like no other. For policing, we unexpectedly found ourselves playing a central role in the emergency response to the first pandemic in a century.

While willing to do all that we can to prevent the loss of life, our role has been very different to that of our brave health service colleagues.

We continue to find ourselves in an uncomfortable position, responding to emergency legislation that requires us to limit people's freedoms in a way I would never have envisaged as possible in all my years as a police officer.

As a result there has often been an impact on public confidence; particularly as a result of some community perceptions around the police response, during different periods of the pandemic, at funerals, protests, sporting events or other gatherings.

I understand how perceptions of tiered policing have evolved, as we wrestled with these unique new operational challenges.

Different communities have, at different times, expressed their criticism, frustrations and, indeed, hurt, at how we responded to Covid-19.

We are an open organisation and often feedback is invaluable to how we plan for the future.

A number of investigations continue into funerals, protests and other gatherings, and just as we have learned from our experience of the policing operations, we will also learn from the criminal justice outcomes; as well as reports on our operational activity from our accountability bodies including the Policing Board and the Police Ombudsman.

It is easy to forget that despite the challenges of the last year, we have also continued with the business of normal policing, protecting people and preventing crime.

Since January, we have dealt with over 80,000 crimes and over 62,000 incidents of anti-social behaviour.

Recognising the value of community connection, I have made 400 additional officers available to Neighbourhood Policing and I am in the process of setting up a new Community Relations Taskforce which will be a priority for the Police Service of Northern Ireland early in 2021.

These developments are part of my commitment to prioritise community engagement and improve trust and confidence in policing, particularly among our vulnerable communities, who have been most affected by the pandemic.

While community engagement is important, winning trust also means targeting the criminality that strangles some of our local communities.

I am investing in the latest technology, as well as bringing best practice from elsewhere, to bear down on paramilitaries and criminal gangs. As an example, ANPR Interceptors were launched three months ago and have already demonstrated huge value in responding to crime in action, with 37 arrests for a range of issues including drugs and theft.

News around a vaccine gives us all some much needed hope as we look ahead to 2021. But, there is no doubt it will be another busy year for your Police Service as, right from the outset, we prepare to deal with any criminal exploitation of a future EU Exit settlement.

The end of the year will also mark the 20th anniversary of the Police Service of Northern Ireland.

Having served as Chief Constable for just under 18 months, it undoubtedly remains a unique service, with unique challenges, but one of which I am hugely proud.

Since becoming Chief, I have been driving a programme of reform and modernisation, seeking to build a visible, accessible, responsive and community focused police service.

However, the complexity and sensitivity of policing the past continues to build in my in-tray; and I am concerned that whatever modernisation and change we make to policing here, the past will continue to threaten and delay the progress we want to make.

This, above all else, is the change that we need to see made in policing here - yet it is a change that does not sit within our control.

I appeal to all those with a role to play in finding a resolution to dealing with the past, to re-double your efforts. To continue as we are not only hampers what we want to achieve in the future; but threatens to damage the carefully built foundations that have been so selflessly built in the first 19 years of the Police Service of Northern Ireland.

2020 has been a difficult year for all of us, however during the pandemic we have witnessed the very best of people who are working on the front line to keep the community safe,

I again pay tribute to our outstanding Health Service, our colleagues in the Ambulance and Fire & Rescue Services and all in the Police Service for their bravery and commitment on the front line.

I look forward with optimism to 2021 and I wish you and your families a safe and peaceful Christmas and my best wishes for the New Year.

Belfast Telegraph