Commenting after the Chief Constable confirmed that the PSNI will have 309 fewer police officers and 115 fewer staff in place by the end of March, the South Antrim MLA said:
‘‘Today is a bad day for law and order in Northern Ireland. The PSNI have warned for some time of the seismic pressures facing its finances as a result of years of underinvestment, but those warnings have been largely ignored by the Department of Finance and the NIO. As a result, communities in Northern Ireland face a new era of less visible and less responsive policing in our Province. That is unjustifiable.
The PSNI face an unprecedented operating shortfall of £226m over the next three years. There will be a net loss of over 300 officers in this financial year alone - but that only tells half the story. On average, 36 officers leave the PSNI every month and without a resumption of recruitment, on any scale, overall headcount will continue to fall in the next few years.
This has deep ramifications for operational policing, including having fewer officers to patrol our neighbourhoods, fewer detectives to investigate serious crime and the potential loss of access to some police stations.
The New Decade New Approach commitment to 7,500 police officers was an opportunity to arrest the decline in police funding and put the PSNI on a more stable footing going forward. The decision by some parties to abandon that pledge was not only reprehensible but has kept the door ajar for the death by a thousand cuts that we are now seeing laid bare in our Police Service.
That Northern Ireland now has the lowest number of officers since the formation of the PSNI, despite crime rising and becoming more complex, should be of concern to all of us. One cannot help but conclude that this will embolden those engaged in criminality and lead to slower investigations.
There needs to be a realisation that it is impossible to simply turn the tap on and off when it comes to officer numbers. For every year of cuts, it will take another two or three to re-grow.
This situation cannot be allowed to continue. Policing has taken more than its fair share of budget cuts in recent times. The DUP will be pressing the Secretary of State to right this wrong. He must now act decisively, come forward with the resources required to protect service activity within the PSNI and ensure the organisation is well-placed to tackle crime and keep all our people safe.’’