Commenting after the Service confirmed that two officers escaped serious injury when their vehicle was targeted twice in Newry on Tuesday evening, the South Antrim MLA said:
‘‘There is no place in our society for this type of reckless and cowardly behaviour. Those who resort to ramming police vehicles to evade arrest must feel the full weight of law. The courts must send out a strong message to deter those from engaging in such acts going forward.
At last month’s Policing Board meeting I challenged the Chief Constable to get to grips with the recent upsurge in the criminal threat in South Armagh. That came after reports of shootings, attacks on PSNI vehicles, injuries to officers and the seizure of a major haul of illegal firearms.
It is not unreasonable for the public to query whether this situation has arisen, at least partly, because of the far-reaching reforms made by the PSNI in South Armagh at the behest of Sinn Fein. These changes saw a number of officers with significant experience and knowledge of the district transferred out. They have resulted in more liveried vehicles being deployed in the area and a proposal to reduce the permanent PSNI presence by closing Crossmaglen station.
With the unprecedented pressures facing the policing budget, the continued threat of ramming incidents will only add to the number of officers and vehicles out of action because of injury and huge repair bills. In the interests of transparency, the PSNI should publish data on the number of recorded offences of this nature, and the resulting costs to the estates budget, in the Slieve Gullion NPT area vis a vis other policing districts in Northern Ireland.
There is an onus on the Chief Constable to demonstrate that the PSNI is treating this issue seriously. The welfare of officers must not play second fiddle to the perceived need to placate certain sections of the local community. If that means rethinking the policing approach in South Armagh, then that work stream must be taken forward as a priority.’’