Chief Constable’s Report -Northern Ireland Policing Board
Much has changed since our last Board meeting in December 2016; and with an Election on the 2 March, there will be yet more change to come. Whilst the Police Service is a non-political organisation, PSNI is not immune to the changes that happen in the political world. The future budget; the future of the Historical Investigations Unit; and the future of partnership agenda as laid out in the Programme for Government; are just a few of the critical areas that impact our work. It is our hope that the momentum already generated around these issues will be resumed following the Election.
On Sunday 22January, shots were fired at two police officers in North Belfast, hitting one of them and causing serious injuries to his arm. Up to ten shots were fired into a petrol station forecourt in the early evening. Strike marks from bullets, on the wall of the petrol station and on a car belonging to a member of the public, bear out the indiscriminate nature of this attack.
The injured officer has undergone surgery and will do so again in the future. He remains in hospital and is in good spirits. His colleague was understandably shocked and is recovering at home with his family.
There is nothing that can excuse the use of violence against the community or against police officers. It will achieve nothing but hurt, grief and pain. We are grateful for the exceptional levels of support and recognition that PSNI has received following the incident.
The investigation into the attack continues and an increased visible policing presence has been in place following the incident to reassure the public of our commitment to continuing to keep people safe.
Despite reduced funding in the current year and the need to absorb a number of additional pressures, not least the increasing costs of Legacy related work, PSNI are projecting to finish the year very close to budget. From an operational perspective however, while spending is on track there is still a number of months to go and a few financial issues to resolve.
Increasingly, the attention is turning to the budget position for next year. In normal circumstances, the funding settlement would already be known and a draft budget with the Board for consideration. However, the continuing uncertainty and delay in determining a budget for 2017-18 hampers PSNI’s ability to adequately plan and prioritise its use of resources.
While a number of budget scenarios have been prepared and considered, until a budget settlement is known, it is impossible to assess overall affordability or make firm decisions on how the budget will be best utilised.
HMIC has previously highlighted the difficulty faced by PSNI in planning the use of resources as a result of limitations in the wider financial management framework. These shortcomings are only exacerbated by a further delay in agreeing a budget.
The longer the delay in determining a budget, the greater the degree of uncertainty, and the greater the potential operational impact. A further concern is that the longer it takes to agree a budget, the less time there is available to plan for and implement any imposed cuts.
While PSNI will do all that it can to approach this challenge with a degree of flexibility, ultimately, the delay in budgets coupled with potential cuts will have operational impacts.
HUMAN RESOURCES UPDATE
A new recruitment campaign will commence in May 2017. The timeliness of this campaign has been made all the more important by the financial challenges and the anticipated rise in retirements throughout 2017/18.
Following the resumption of training at the Police College, appointments continue to be made from Recruitment Campaign 3 merit pool. It is anticipated that there will be sufficient applicants to make appointments from this merit list for the remainder of 2017. Commencing Recruitment Campaign 4 in May will enable continuous appointments to PSNI, by having a new merit pool in place by December.
Barriers to Recruitment Research
In June 2016, Deloitte was commissioned by PSNI to undertake research focused on understanding the barriers affecting police officer recruitment. In considering community background, the research also took account of a range of other factors including gender, age, socio-economic background and nationality.
The findings of the research project and associated actions have been presented to the Resources Committee. Work is already underway to implement the actions arising from this research and we will continue to update the Resources Committee. The ambition to develop and sustain a representative Police Service is a critical challenge that will require support and leadership from within and far beyond policing.
DEALING WITH THE PAST
Dealing with the Past continues to cause significant challenge for PSNI from both an operational and public confidence perspective. It remains PSNI’s position that the Historical Investigations Unit, as proposed in the Stormont House Agreement, should take responsibility for conducting investigations into the past. It is our hope that progress on the establishment of the Historical Investigations Unit can be restored following the upcoming election.
The Board has asked for updates on a number of ongoing historical investigations outlined below:
Operation Kenova, an investigation into the alleged activities of the person known as Stakeknife, was initiated by a Section 35(5) referral from the Director of Public Prosecutions. The investigation is being led by Chief Constable Jon Boutcher, Bedfordshire Police. The Chief Constable meets with the Kenova Team on a quarterly basis, the most recent meeting of which was in January 2017. The team has all their people, premises and IT infrastructure in place and are progressing their investigation. Expected costs to PSNI are approximately £2m in 2016/17 and £5m in 2017/18.
Operation Klina, an investigation into the actions of security service personnel in relation to an operation at a hayshed at Ballynerry Road North, Lurgan, on 24 November 1982, was initiated following a Section 35(5) referral from the Director of Public Prosecutions. The investigation is being led by Assistant Chief Constable Malcolm Graham, Police Scotland. The Chief Constable receives a monthly progress report from the Klina Team. The Enquiry Team continue to make effective progress, given the scale and complexities of the investigation. Expected costs to PSNI are just over £3m over three years to 2017/18.
Operation Jennet, an investigation into the events of Bloody Sunday, was initiated following the Saville Inquiry. The investigation is being carried out by PSNI’s Legacy Investigations Branch. A report has been filed with the Public Prosecution Service for consideration and the investigation is continuing.
Review of Bail
The issue of bail has been the subject of considerable public debate in recent weeks.
By way of update in relation to the case of Damian McLaughlin, a detailed answer has been provided in answer to the Policing Board questions. The Office of the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland has also initiated an investigation into this matter.
Senior detectives investigating the murder of David Black have visited his family to apologise for the hurt and distress caused following the breach of bail conditions by Mr McLaughlin.
Police strenuously objected to the granting of bail and subsequent bail variations throughout this case.
Extensive enquiries continue to locate Mr McLaughlin in order to bring him before the Court. These enquiries have included house searches; door to door enquiries and liaising with An Garda Síochána. A European Arrest Warrant has also been obtained.
The use of bail, or opposition to it, is subject to serious consideration on a case by case basis. The decision to take a person’s freedom by opposing bail is extremely significant and balanced between the applicant’s convention rights, the Police Service’s obligations under Section 32 of the Police Act and the safety and/or Article 2 risk to the public.
PSNI are conducting a review of bail in order to ensure that the processes currently in place surrounding bail checks are robust and will provide the necessary requirements for both the families of the victims and the police.
Tackling paramilitary activity, criminality and organised crime
With its initial in year Fresh Start funding allocation, PSNI created an investigative team with capacity to investigate all crime levels and financial affairs of paramilitary Organized Crime Gangs (OCGs) with coordinated investigations to include:-
- Low level attrition
- Proactive investigations targeting key members of the OCGs
- Full financial investigation, identification and seizure of assets from the OCGs
The team has enabled an increase in the identification and subsequent investigation of paramilitary linked organised crime groups by PSNI in conjunction with other law enforcement agencies including the National Crime Agency and HMRC.
This financial year PSNI can report the following successes against organised criminals who claim to be members of Loyalist and Republican Paramilitary groups in the course of their criminal enterprise:-
- Over 100 searches
- Over 40 arrests
- Over 21 persons charged or reported to the Public Prosecution Service
And an estimated £250k in criminal assets recovered including:-
- Over £130k Cocaine seized
- Over £70k in Cannabis
- Over £10k of Counterfeit goods
- Around £20,000 in cash recovered
- 5 firearms as well as tasers, paramilitary uniforms and offensive weapons
To develop this work further in the future, there is a joint PSNI/NCA/HMRC bid for the establishment of a co-located multi-disciplinary team. The premise of this bid is that by creating a dedicated investigative resource; long term consistent focus can be applied to the investigation of paramilitary groups, even where the known criminal activity for a particular gang is relatively low in a community and would not otherwise attract this level of PSNI, NCA and HMRC resource.
Queen’s Gallantry Medal
Sergeant Mark Wright, Banbridge, has been awarded the Queen’s Gallantry Medal for his bravery in responding to a domestic incident in Lurgan on 5 February 2012. Sergeant Wright and his colleagues attended a call from a woman who had been assaulted by a man who then locked himself in a house with two children. On attempting to enter the house Sergeant Wright was attacked by the suspect who was wielding two knives. Despite sustaining serious injuries to his head, Sergeant Wright continued with his colleagues to overpower and restrain the suspect.
The bravery shown by Sergeant Wright and the officers who were attacked in North Belfast on 22 January, together with their colleagues who are continuing to deliver a service to the community despite this attack, are great examples of what policing is about.
Change is a constant; but our policing purpose of Keeping People Safe remains the same. Whilst the financial and operational challenges ahead are immense, PSNI officers and staff are determined to adapt to these new pressures while keeping the community at the heart of everything we do.