Dire years lie ahead if action isn’t taken to reverse this erosion of vital resources
By Liam Kelly, Chair, Police Federation for Northern Ireland (PFNI)
The news delivered by the Chief Constable yesterday was dire. We are now in a full-blown crisis, and if there’s not a change of investment direction, there’s no getting away from the fact that further and very obvious erosion in policing services will emerge in coming months and years.
Ultimately, it’s the public who will suffer. The Chief Constable used the word ‘may’ in his stark assessment. I will be more direct and say ‘will’, and I know the Chief Constable will do all he can to protect services that our communities depend upon. Nevertheless, we’re on a cliff edge and the ground is tumbling away beneath our feet as we assess the damage that’s about to be inflicted.
If the public call on what is graded a non-emergency matter, they will have to wait longer for officers to respond to an incident.
Investigating crime in homes or neighbourhoods will take a hit. Crime is already on the increase but with fewer officers, the inevitability is for slower investigations and poorer outcomes for victims of crime.
Neighbourhood Policing, so much a vital and essential part of the work that we do, will have to shrink and the knock-on effects of that will be far-reaching.
Roads Policing won’t escape with reduced proactive presence despite road deaths increasing last year. As Mr Byrne says ‘less police equals less policing’ and that means looking afresh at the number and operation of our police stations. Three hundred and nine fewer officers by the end of March 2023 will take the total in the Service down to 6,699. This is the lowest number of police officers since the formation of the PSNI.
Worryingly, the policing of protest and public disorder will be impacted. That will call into question the ability to contain potentially violent street situations, protect people and property and detect and apprehend law-breakers. Our Tactical Support Group officers are also at the forefront of providing specialist search capability for the entire service. The erosion of their resources will negatively impact on both securing and preserving evidence and keeping people safe.
To a large extent, that’s the here and now. Without reversing this disinvestment and headlong decline, future years will be just as dire. The expectation is that the Service will reduce to 6,000 – 1,500 fewer than what was in the New Decade, New Approach document and some 2,600 of what is required given the rise in our population since the inception of the PSNI.
Given the likely negative impacts on the people we serve, there is an undeniable need for a public outcry. We want business and community organisations to join us in calling on politicians to unite to resist these unjustifiable cuts. Collectively, they need to make their opposition known to Government Ministers that enough is enough.
There needs to be visible outspoken indignation over what is being done to policing in Northern Ireland. Our politicians have to start responding to the needs of our communities as ultimately the public will be the net losers.
We dreaded this announcement, and dread what’s the next few years will hold for our officers. Our men and women are being treated disgracefully over the lack of a pay award and the abuse and physical injury many suffer as they go about their work.
Policing has always been the service of first and last resort. If numbers and services diminish and are undermined, this mantra will have to change to a service that may not in coming months and years be relied upon to answer the call.