Demands on officers and lack of resources mean that stress levels are through the roof

Mark Lindsay, chairman of the Police Federation of Northern Ireland
Mark Lindsay, chairman of the Police Federation of Northern Ireland

Today (Thursday), the Chief Constable will once again meet with members of the Northern Ireland Policing Board to discuss the Police College Review Report. He has accepted the contents of the report.

As a result, an implementation team has been set up to ensure the report recommendations are implemented.

Since the Chief Constable directed the investigation into training at the Police College in July, recruitment has been suspended. This means that by the end of the year some 300 fewer officers will have been inducted into the service.

This means 300 fewer officers to deal with local policing and community issues and to ease the increasing demand on the existing overstretched resources. With an average of 30 officers per month leaving the service, and the fact that the service is already 700 officers understrength from the figures recommended by the Patten report, and it becomes clear that the service will struggle to maintain an acceptable standard.

There is no longer any excuse for the Board and the Chief Constable to delay the reintroduction of recruitment.

I do not engage in scare-mongering, but I have to say to the Board that the public will not forgive or forget if there’s depleted visibility on the ground with certain crimes going unanswered or delayed for hours and, in some cases, days.

It also means that we are storing up very real but avoidable problems in policing. The knock-on consequences for our men and women are shocking. We have stress levels that are through the roof. Shift demands, mainly due to a lack of resources, means leave and rest days needed to recharge batteries are difficult to secure.

Fatigue due to under resourcing, is a real problem and that makes people more vulnerable to accidents or injuries. Put simply, if we are to retain our officers, both the PSNI and the NI Policing Board have got to treat them with greater consideration.

There is a wider canvass against which this recruitment saga is being played out, and it is this: the PSNI budget seems set to be savaged yet again, which will inflict further unwanted pressure on an already badly stretched organisation.

And, once again, its officers who will be expected to do the heavy lifting. In a sense, the failure to recruit and imminent cutbacks are working as a pincer on the PSNI. Instead of dithering over the distraction that is recruitment, the Board, the Justice Minister and the wider political community, should be leading the charge for a properly funded, fully staffed Police Service to deliver policing right across Northern Ireland.

The Department for Justice holds the purse strings and dictates how its allocation from the Department of finance is carved up. The Minister and her senior officials must be strenuous and forthright in the case they put for increased resources.

Ultimately, if that entails going to London to make a valid case for additional funds, then let them join us in making that valid case.

It’s within our power to resolve one major issue, namely the stalled recruitment issue.

Later today, the representatives on the NI Policing Board have the solution within their grasp. Our hope is they end the foot-dragging and get on with the job.

Mark Lindsay is the chairman of the Police Federation for Northern Ireland