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Lower threat level ‘raises question’ over arming of all PSNI officers

Report questions whether PSNI should adopt system of specialist AFOs used in mainland forces

A reduction in the threat level in Northern Ireland raises a question over the criteria for arming all PSNI officers, a new report has said.

The Policing Board also said the fact that the weapons are rarely discharged means the force should consider the issue as part of its long-term plans.

Currently all PSNI officers are issued with Glock handguns which may be carried on and off duty.

The board has published its annual human rights report, along with a special report examining the use of force by the PSNI.

But the Federation has criticised the report for 'paying scant regard' to officer safety and not taking into account 'real world policing.'

The report makes a series of recommendations including one that rejects the expanded use of tasers as currently the PSNI has only 100 taser-trained officers.

The report into use of force contains a chapter on firearms.

It said: “The use of firearms has fluctuated over the course of the past 10 years.

“Firearms were drawn 364 times in 2012/13, compared to 440 times in 2021/22.

“Firearms have only been discharged five times over the past 10 years.

“The last incident involving firearms was an unintentional discharge in June 2022 and has been referred to the Ombudsman.”

The report recommends: “The reduction in the security threat level in Northern Ireland and the fact that officers very rarely have to fire their firearms raises a question about what the criteria should be for issuing firearms to all officers rather than, as in the rest of the UK and the Republic of Ireland, only to those specially trained in their use.

“The PSNI should consider this issue as part of its longer-term plans.”

Last year, MI5 took the decision to reduce the threat level in Northern Ireland from severe to substantial for the first time in 12 years.

The report also recommends that the PSNI should contract an independent research body to ascertain the effect of injuries to individuals hit by plastic bullets or stun grenades or bitten by police dogs.

The Chair of the Police Federation for Northern Ireland (PFNI), Liam Kelly, has criticiseed the report and says it ignores the human rights of police officers who need to protect themselves .

Mr Kelly said: “This has been launched alongside a Human Rights review but the use of force report is devoid of acknowledging the human rights of police officers.

“We agree wholeheartedly with the practical and sensible recommendation by His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS) to expand the use of tasers as they are a credible, less lethal tactical option that afford much better protection to officers dealing with violent incidents.

“In Northern Ireland, we have around 100 specialist officers trained in the use of tasers, and it is our view that every frontline officer should have the option to be equipped with the device.

“What the Board and its Human Rights Adviser appear to be advocating would see potentially more officers attacked and seriously hurt. Tasers are effective. They are used instead of the more lethal option of a firearm in life-threatening situations and their value as a deterrent must not be under-estimated.

“Instead of paying lip service to our officers’ human rights and inhibiting their ability to protect both themselves and the public, the Board should be focusing on supporting the PSNI to get an effective budget so the Chief Constable can recommence recruitment, increase much-needed resources and ensure our officers are paid properly.

“Similarly, the whole issue of issuing firearms to officers misses a central point. We have a terrorist threat level directed at our officers which is why they are entitled to personal protection weapons. Day and daily, both on and off duty, our officers are being targeted, and they must have the ability to defend themselves. Yet again, it appears that officer rights under Article 2 of the European Convention of Human Rights are not being effectively advocated by the NIPB, and that is a source of great disappointment.

“Overall, this report shows scant regard for officer health and safety. They are expected to intervene in vicious brawls and confront violent assailants, and the Board seems to think they can do that job by reasoning with dangerous and often armed assailants.

“Real world policing invariably is not conducted in a eutopia nor can interactions always be fully replicated in simulated training environments.   Our officers do not fear accountability or oversight. What they do fear is the inability to protect themselves, their colleagues and victims of crime because they are not being provided with the requisite support and available equipment necessary to enable them to do their jobs.”

PSNI deputy chief constable Mark Hamilton said: “We welcome these reports.

“Human rights are central to everything we do as police officers and the oversight provided by the Policing Board is key to maintaining public confidence in policing.

“We will continue to work alongside the Policing Board’s independent human rights adviser as we consider and respond to the content of these wide-ranging reports.”

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