The defunct PSNI Rural Crime Unit consisted of just two people during the short time it existed – and only one of them was a police officer.
The News Letter had pressed the police for answers after it was revealed this week by the chief constable that the squad had been dissolved.
The revelation emerged when UUP MLA Robin Swann posed a question during an internet-based question-and-answer session with the police chief George Hamilton on Wednesday night.
The North Antrim MLA had asked him: “How many officers are currently in the #PSNI Rural Crime Unit?”
The chief constable had responded: “There is no rural crime unit but it remains a priority in relevant areas and is tackled on a daily basis.”
Mr Swann’s follow-up question, asking exactly when the unit had been disbanded, met with no response.
The creation of the unit was announced in May 2013 by the Department of Justice.
The News Letter this week asked the PSNI a number of questions about it – particularly about its strength.
It responded that the team had been “staffed by an analyst and an officer”.
The police officer held the rank of constable. The analyst, who was tasked with looking at crime data, was not a member of the force.
The PSNI said “the contract for the data analyst post was not renewed beyond December 31, 2014”.
They had been in post for just over one year.
When it comes to the police officer, the PSNI said they had been “on loan from an operational area and, due to current resourcing constraints, has been recalled to that area”.
In a statement, Superintendent Brian Kee said: “The Rural Crime Unit was a resource to aid officers in the course of their duty.
“It provided analysis to enable officers in their continuing work in terms of tackling rural crime.
“It was dedicated to identify trends and patterns of rural crime to provide a provincewide picture to supplement the work which continually goes on day in, day out, in local police teams throughout Northern Ireland.”
He said the data analyst had set in place the PSNI’s current system for analysing trends in agricultural crime, adding: “This work continues at Area level and centrally through the Analysis Centre.”
As well as public money, the unit had been part-funded by NFU Mutual.
During Wednesday night’s online question-and-answer session, one member of the public had asked George Hamilton what his greatest achievement and challenge was as chief constable, to which he had replied: “Maintaining service delivery and high levels of public confidence in policing against reducing budgets.”
Unit was ‘fanfare about nothing’
Mr Swann, MLA for North Antrim and a member of Stormont’s agriculture committee for a number of years, said at the time it was being set up he believed it would have three or four officers, plus a data analyst.
Upon being told of the true numbers, he said: “I am surprised. I knew it wasn’t a massive unit, but I thought it was bigger than just one constable.”
He added: “The establishment of the crime unit seems to have been much of a fanfare about nothing, and then it just disappeared overnight hoping nobody would notice.”
He said it was “totally unbelievable” that the unit had been “disbanded in the dark of night”.