For an organisation that is so people-centred, with 85% of its expenditure committed to wages and salaries, cuts to the PSNI budget on the scale of 8% or even 5% represent a massive challenge.
As the community consistently demands greater visibility of police officers on the streets and more effective response times to incidents, there would be universal dismay if police officer numbers had to be reduced to meet tight budgetary targets.
In my opinion, however, there is substantial room for service improvement, more effective administration and a leaner organisational infrastructure before that nightmare scenario would need to be implemented.
Take the police estate. For 20 years at least the organisation has been far too slow to close police stations that are either shut up, subject to limited opening or now surplus to requirements.
How long will it be before they axe Mountpottinger in east Belfast and other locations that have been on the hit-list for closure since back in the early 1990s, when I was a member of the old Police Authority?
The traditional idea of a police station in every neighbourhood is now obsolete and far too expensive.
A new state-of the-art building is nearing completion at Musgrave Street. That should lead to the elimination of several satellite stations, not least the antiquated Donegall Pass.
In other areas they should copy the Japanese ‘Koban’ concept and either set up cost-effective small reporting stations in libraries, shopping centres and the like or co-located in existing housing or social services premises holding ‘surgeries’ at designated times.
Above all they must take far more radical steps to slash bureaucracy by making more use of hand-held and in-vehicle computers, shift change patterns to have officers on call at times of peak demand and ensure there is a current change to the unacceptable pattern of officers spending more time in their stations than out on the streets.