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PSNI unveils 'milestone' normalisation plan

Northern Ireland’s latest step towards normalisation has been launched by its chief despite fears over finances.

Community-based policing across Northern Ireland is set to become a reality, chief constable Simon Byrne has said.

CC Byrne said the force was at a “significant new milestone” that showed how far policing had come in terms of making the aspiration of neighbourhood policing a reality.

Rather than imposing order, he said officers will work in partnership with local groups to deal with issues of concern – and use their reports of offending to shape responses.

The force will achieve this by using eight hallmarks set out in ‘Here for you’ – the Police Service’s Public Engagement Vision.

They are: Embedding the right culture; Engaging neighbourhoods, Building analytical capability; Solving problems; Targeting Activity; Accountability; Developing officers and staff; and, Developing and sharing learning.

It’s the latest stage of a re-boot for the force that has included getting officers out on mountain bikes, some unarmed patrols, modernised uniforms and a commitment to close some military style stations that were built during The Troubles.

The force is also working at international level with the Garda to tackle organised crime gangs – with a level of co-operation that has never been seen before.

CC Byrne said: ““We’ve made a lot of progress in recent years in reducing crime and keeping people safe. Northern Ireland is now one of the safest places in the UK with some of the highest levels of trust and confidence in policing because of what the Police Service has achieved working together with local communities at a neighbourhood level.

He added: “However, whilst we’ve achieved a lot, including taking record amounts of drugs off our streets, we know there is more to do. By investing in neighbourhood policing and engagement, alongside modernising our service, Police can more deeply embed the prevention and early intervention approaches that will be key to meeting the challenges of the future.”

But one of the main parts of the plan faces uncertainty.

The objective to recruit more officers is under pressure due to the financial crisis caused by the Assembly stalling.

The force has revised down its target of 7,500 officers to 7,100 and warned it needs an extra £21m to do it.

PSNI’s chief operating officer Pamela McCreedy has already warned officer numbers could drop to 6,768 by next March due to retirements.

But the force’s oversight team said the funding crisis couldn’t be allowed to derail a much-needed objective.

Policing Board Chair Doug Garrett said: “The Board fully supports the need for continued investment in local neighbourhood policing teams, and the importance of listening to and engaging with the community in improving service delivery.”

He added: “We know through our work, and that of the Policing and Community Safety Partnerships, that communities want a service that is visible, engaged locally and is responsive to community issues and concerns.  Policing in partnership with local communities and delivering local solutions to problems is central to maintaining and building confidence in the service.”

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