PSNI officers demand more staff

The PSNI has 6,800-6,900 officers but Patten recommended 7,500 officers in a totally peaceful environment
The PSNI has 6,800-6,900 officers but Patten recommended 7,500 officers in a totally peaceful environment

Burnt-out PSNI officers want the chief constable and Justice Minister to lobby the Treasury for funding to reach minimum safe staffing levels recommended by Patten.

That is the issue topping the agenda at the Police Federation annual conference on Wednesday at the La Mon House Hotel in Co Down, according to chairman Mark Lindsay.

“The issue that confronts every officer at the moment is work-related stress and the sufficient numbers [of staff] that are required to carry out modern-day policing in Northern Ireland,” he told the News Letter.

“Officers are not immune from the everyday pressures that every other member of society comes up against.

“But when you add on to that the severe terrorist threat which migrates from on-duty to off-duty hours, and the intense oversight and pressure from doing policing in Northern Ireland, I think it can be a great pressure for officers at the moment.”

Officers in public protection, dealing with child abuse and domestic violence, are currently struggling with 24- 26 cases at a time – twice the recommended level.

There has been a 60 per cent increase in stress-related sickness absence over the past three years.

Officers took well over 30,000 sick days in 2015.

He added: “Northern Ireland tends to be compared with similar forces – but there are no similar forces.

“We are compared with Liverpool or Merseyside, but they can quite frequently send one officer out to do what may need two to four officers in Northern Ireland.”

The PSNI has 6,800-6,900 officers but Patten recommended 7,500 officers in “a totally peaceful environment”, a difference of 600 officers.

A survey last year showed morale was “very low” in 96 per cent of officers.

The main obstacle to increased staffing is finances.

“The Treasury needs to look at assisting the Department of Justice in reaching those goals because every other level of Patten has been implemented apart from this one element which matters to the officers – and that is the numbers of staff.”

The Treasury has a national security budget which it has used to support the PSNI in the past. And most elements of policing in Northern Ireland have got “a national security bent” due to the terrorist threat against all officers.

“We call on the Justice Minister and the chief constable to do what is necessary,” said Mr Lindsay.

He added: “The only way it can be done is with a significant case put in support of our arguments by the chief constable and the Department of Justice to say we need more officers – and it needs to be funded from this separate funding stream.”

The PSNI responded that it accepts that policing and all other public sector budgets have been under strain for a number of years but added that staffing levels are kept under constant review.

The PSNI has worked hard to maintain police officer numbers and operational capacity during these times of austerity, a spokesman said.

Deputy Chief Constable Drew Harris said: “We are very mindful of the significant pressure placed on police officers and police staff in Northern Ireland and we take our responsibilities as an employer extremely seriously.

“Indeed we have one of the most comprehensive health and wellbeing departments available to police officers anywhere in these islands.

“The chief constable and I regularly meet with staff associations to ensure that areas of staff concern are raised at the earliest opportunity with a view to early resolution.”