Secretary of State should stand up for policing

DUP East Belfast MLA Joanne Bunting has challenged the Secretary of State to stand up for policing amid warnings that the number of neighbourhood officers across Northern Ireland could be slashed by 60% because of pressures facing the PSNI budget.

By Joanne Bunting MLA

Belfast East

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Commenting, the DUP Policing Board representative said:

‘‘The financial pressures facing the PSNI are unprecedented and the Chief Constable has been forced into the unenviable position of having to choose between balancing the books and ensuring he can deliver on his duties to tackling crime and keeping the public safe.

The latest budget imposed by the Northern Ireland Office is entirely inadequate for policing and this will be catastrophic for confidence in communities across our Province.

Difficult decisions have already been taken to pause recruitment and put on hold repairs to the PSNI fleet. This is only storing up problems for the future. For every year in which officer numbers plummet, it will take another three to undo the damage. That is the stark reality Simon Byrne and his team face in the current climate.

The public’s expectations need to be managed given the finite resources available and to his credit, the Chief Constable has been open about the likely implications for neighbourhood policing. The planning assumption today is that without dramatic investment in the police budget, the number of neighbourhood officers in place will nosedive from 700 to 250 in a relatively short space of time. Shifts will get shorter and officers will spend less time on the ground. This will be hugely damaging to police visibility, response and building relationships with local communities.

In any other frontline service, a 60% cut in the workforce would be unthinkable, yet this is exactly the price the PSNI will have to pay for the chronic underfunding of policing over the past decade. Furthermore, given that the Chief Constable has said repeatedly he wants to prioritise neighourhood policing when taking these difficult decisions, one wonders how much worse the impact will be in other departments.

It is a sad indictment on the Government that the PSNI is now having to countenance using funding set aside to address the security threat in Northern Ireland to plug gaps in grassroots policing. This creates a new series of problems and is not sustainable.

The Secretary of State needs to realise that the PSNI’s finances have reached breaking point. In order to protect service delivery, defend the most vulnerable and improve staff morale, we need to see a short-term cash injection in policing as well as a strategic review of how public services in Northern Ireland are funded.’’

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