Category: Archive

Top cop says violence has department at breaking point

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Anne Cadwallader

BELFAST — Northern Ireland’s acting chief constable has warned that his force is being “overstretched,” with some officers at the “breaking point” because of increasing sectarian violence.

After 15 months of street disorder, and with the threat from dissident republican and loyalist groups opposed to the peace process at its most dangerous in the last five years, he said his men need more support from politicians and the community.

Acting Chief Constable Colin Cramphorn said that the pressures on resources left little for ordinary day-to-day policing.

“In many areas we are responding to emergency calls and little else,” he said last week.

The net result, he added, was to reduce policing within the community to an “unfulfilled aspiration” on many occasions. He told of one example, an officer on riot duty who had an emotional breakdown and had to be put on sick leave.

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Cramphorn said he had made his hard-hitting statement to the Police Board to avoid the incoming police chief finding the problems lying “festering” in his in-tray. Hugh Orde takes up duty as chief constable next month.

Statistics from the Police Service of Northern Ireland show that on June 30 the number of regular officers available for duty should have stood at 8,488, while the actual total was 6,859.

Cramphorn’s warning was made public as Jane Kennedy, the British security minister, met leaders of Sinn Fein, who demanded that independent monitors be placed at sectarian flashpoints across Belfast to identify ringleaders orchestrating violence.

Cramphorn said that by putting themselves between the warring factions, the police had prevented them from descending into an “orgy of violence that would have cost many more lives and caused widespread destruction.”

He added, however, that the pressures of constant frontline duty were getting to the men and women of the service. It was not just the injuries suffered in riots — 731 in the 12 months to the end of July — but the impact of working long hours with little opportunity for rest and recuperation.

“The cumulative effect of this is to generate levels of fatigue and tiredness which diminish the effectiveness and quality of the officers’ contributions when they are at work,” he said.

Cramphorn said that the large number of major crime investigations, particularly murders, coupled with the loss of experienced detectives over the last 18 months under the Patten Commission report’s plans to reduce manpower, meant that “we are unable to resource such investigations to nationally recommended standards.”

He contended that the police had “taken all the pain of the new beginning for policing, but had yet to see any of the gain.”

That gain could only be achieved if civic society, as a whole, and its representatives played the part envisioned for them in the Patten report.

“Civic society and the body politic have not yet delivered,” he said.

One Police Board member, Ian Paisley Jr. of the DUP, said Cramphorn’s comments were “a very frank assessment as to just how bad the situation is” and that there was no pro-active policing.

Criminals are “getting away scot free” and that was demoralizing for police officers who wanted to combat crime but did not have the resources, he said.

The Policr Board is due to make a decision soon on the Patten Report recommendation that the full-time police reserve of nearly 2,000 members be disbanded. The SDLP supports such a move.

Paisley, who opposes it, said: “Anyone who at this time believes we can do without the full-time reserve needs their head examined. This body of officers are crucial to what is left of the police service.”

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