Redeployment of PSNI community teams a ‘betrayal’ of Patten plan

PSNI officers
PSNI officers

Community police officers are being withdrawn from the front line to sit behind desks in a reversal of the PSNI’s central policy for years, the News Letter can reveal.

Withdrawing dedicated neighbourhood PSNI officers from communities is a “betrayal” of the Patten vision for policing, the Police Federation said.

Chairman Terry Spence expressed concern at sweeping changes which will see neighbourhood police units mainly engaged in preparing case files for officers attending routine and emergency calls.

The radical changes are as a result of budget cuts which have led to the loss of many PSNI civilian support staff.

One officer told the News Letter: “There’s years of good work going to the wall and it feels like our efforts have been wasted in many ways.

“We have told people we will be here to support them in whatever community projects they have going on but now we feel we’ve been dishonest in some way.”

Mr Spence said: “The fact that officers of a community policing perspective are being directed to file preparation units, being redirected to do just response policing, what we have become is a blue light service where we are reacting to calls.”

The chief constable “has tried his utmost” to ensure the PSNI is adequately resourced, but the pledge of some additional funding is far short of what is required, he said.

The withdrawal of dedicated neighbourhood PSNI officers from communities across Northern Ireland is a “betrayal” of the Patten vision for policing, the Police Federation has said.

Chairman Terry Spence expressed concern at sweeping changes which will see neighbourhood police units mainly engaged in preparing case files for officers attending routine and emergency calls.

The radical changes are as a result of budget cuts which have led to the loss of many PSNI civilian support staff.

One officer told the News Letter: “There’s years of good work going to the wall and it feels like our efforts have been wasted in many ways.

“We have told people we will be here to support them in whatever community projects they have going on but now we feel we’ve been dishonest in some way.”

Mr Spence said: “The fact that officers of a community policing perspective are being directed to file preparation units, being redirected to do just response policing, what we have become is a blue light service where we are reacting to calls.”

He said the chief constable “has tried his utmost” to ensure that the PSNI is adequately resourced, but the promise of some additional funding fell far short of what is required.

“It is still nowhere near enough to allow what we believe is a fundamental part of policing in Northern Ireland – neighbour/community policing – to continue the way it was envisaged in Patten, and the way people the people of Northern Ireland expect it to happen.

“So in many respects they were sold a pup on the Patten recommendations. It’s just not happening,” Mr Spence added.

Ballymena community worker Sam Logan said the loss of a dedicated neighbourhood sergeant in recent weeks, after 13 years of continuous daily support, was “a disaster”.

The Rectory Residents Association project coordinator said the dedicated officers know the problems specific to each area and can respond accordingly.

“We have noticed a big difference in Ballymena already. There’s no support and no help whenever you go looking for it and you’re just fobbed off. I have noticed changes from working so closely with them,” he said.

Assistant Chief Constable Stephen Martin praised the work of the neighbourhood policing teams but said a budget reduction had forced changes.

“Our aim is to deliver savings whilst ensuring that our service to all communities in Northern Ireland is fit for purpose and sustainable. Our priority is to keep people safe and when making any changes we will keep the community at the heart of everything we do. But if we are becoming a smaller organisation, it is right that we look at how we best continue to deliver this in the future.

“The impact of the budget reductions will not be felt on neighbourhood policing alone; there is going to be an impact right across the full spectrum of policing.”

ACC Martin asked for public understanding and said the PSNI would continue to provide a service while living within its means, but added: “However, we continue to use our ‘whole team’ approach to policing communities with officers in all areas of our organisation, such as Neighbourhood Policing Teams, Response, CID, Roads Policing, to name only a few, working hard to keep people safe.

“It is inevitable over the coming months we will have to find different ways of providing the policing service across the districts but it will look different and will mean that we have to be more flexible about how we deploy our officers – it’s about policing smarter, with the support of our partner agencies and the community.”

A Policing Board spokeswoman said they had been in discussion with the PSNI over recent months to plan next year’s budget reductions.

She said: “Both PSNI and the Board have been prioritising minimising the impact of the delivery of frontline policing services but the unprecedented scale of the cuts will inevitably impact on all areas of policing.

“The Board have been made aware of the impact of the planned cuts and further discussions will take place in advance of the Board approving the PSNI budget allocation for 2015/16.”