Chief Constable's Report to Northern Ireland Policing Board

  • 06 February 2020


The purpose of this report is to:

1. Update the Board about the effectiveness of Operation Seasons Greetings

2. Brief Board members about the extent of drug abuse in Northern Ireland and to stimulate debate about strategies to tackle it.

3. Outline the current police recruitment process

4. Summarise progress with Strategic Outline Cases for investment in officer numbers, the police estate and Information Technology (IT).


1.1. Background

Please note that all data outlined in this section of the report is  provisional,particularly arrests and outcomes. All data will change as more crimes are reported for the period and investigations progress throughout 2020. Therefore, the figures provided must not be treated as official crime statistics.

Operation Seasons Greetings is a month long operation that aims to provide a highly visible surge in policing activity over the festive period in order to reassure the public, prevent crime and respond to crime incidents across Northern Ireland. The operation has an overarching aim of increasing confidence in policing.

The most recent operation began on 2 December 2019 and ran until the 2 January 2020 although tactical interventions had been put in place as early as 20 November to police early Christmas related events. The total cost of the operation was £773, 920. The Operation was based upon the provision of dedicated resources to carry out targeted activity against the themes of:

  • Business Crime
  • Domestic Abuse
  • Drug misuse/street level dealing
  • Road Safety

1.2. Impact

The following operational figures illustrate the breakdown of the results against those identified targets.


2 Dec 2018 – 

2 Jan 2019

2 Dec 2019 –

2 Jan 2020

Change % change
Business Crime 1439 1139 -300 -21
Domestic Crime 1553 1696 143 9.2

Domestic-violence with injury

499 392 -107 -21.4
Drugs 620 696 76 12
Total crime 8687 8775 88 1

Business crime: Considerable effort was undertaken to provide crime prevention advice throughout the operation, accompanied by high profile patrolling in the main retail areas. In terms of overall categories the biggest decrease was within the business crime category, with a third of this decrease represented by 110 less shoplifting incidents. In a challenging trading environment for the “bricks and mortar” retail sector, this reduction should be viewed as a positive outcome.

Domestic Abuse: The Domestic Abuse strand of the operation was led by Public Protection Branch. The dedicated Domestic Abuse campaign ran from 16 December 2019 to 15 January 2020, as per previous years. The official statistics from that campaign will be released on the week commencing 10 February as they are currently going through ratification and verification checks. However, based on available operational crime data from 2 December 2019 to 2 January 2020, the total number of reported incidents with a domestic motivation has seen a reduction of 5.5% to 2,883 incidents in comparison to the same period last year. However, of those incidents, the total number of crimes reported with a Domestic motivation has increased by 9.2% to 1696. Whilst outcome rates for the Operation Seasons Greetings campaign alone cannot be determined at this time, our overall outcome rate for domestic abuse crimes with injury have increased from 29.1% in the previous financial year to date (PFYTD) to 32.8% in the financial year to date (FYTD). Our outcome rate for all domestic abuse has slightly increased from 25.7% (PFYTD) to 26.2% (FYTD), an increase of 0.5%.Operational figures also indicate that we charge a named offender in 25% of Domestic Abuse cases, compared to an overall crime type average of 20%.

Drugs: The drugs strand, which focused on street level dealing, whilst conducted for the entire month had an intensification period between 6 and 20 December (the peak period for the nigh time economy). The increase in drugs offences must be understood in the context of increased police activity. Every drug related seizure and/or arrest is recorded as a crime. The overall increase in drugs offences was reflected in both categories of trafficking and possession. The majority of anti-drugs activity carried out by local officers will have been in relation to possession, which evidenced a 12% increase on the same period last year. The following table shows the drugs linked to possession offences during the operation –

Drug Type No
Cannabis 361
Other 140
Cocaine 50
Blank 28
Benzodiazepine 13
Heroin 12
Amphetamine 3
Methadone 1

The types of drugs seized would be reflective of the overall trend at the moment, albeit cannabis contributed to a smaller number of incidents over the Christmas period, with other drugs showing a slight increase. During the operational activity there were a total of 300 arrests in relation to drugs offences. 252 drugs offences currently have an outcome linked to them. The seized drugs equate to a street value of £429,000.

Road Safety: The following information has been supplied by PSNI Statistics Branch and refers to the Christmas Drink Drive Campaign that formed an integral part of Operation Seasons Greetings. A highly visible element of the overall operation, it ran from 28 November to 1 January. Overall results included:

  • Sadly 10 fatalities occurred on our roads during this period, compared with 3 for the same period last year.
  • PSNI officers conducted over 13,568 preliminary breath tests (PBTs), an increase of 1,669 (14.0%) on the campaign period last year.
  • Of the 13,568 PBTs conducted, 3.6% (486) resulted in a fail or failed to provide, a lower proportion when compared with the previous campaign (4.6%).
  • 418 people were arrested for drink/drug driving related offences during this year’s campaign, an increase of 29.8% compared with the same period last year (322).
  • 397 evidential procedures were completed, on persons ranging from 14 to 83 years old. Males accounted for the majority, with 314 (79.1%) subject to evidential procedures.

Online Engagement: The operation included a great deal of online and offline engagement to reinforce the safety messaging and crime prevention advice that were central to the campaigns. The totality of our online engagement is illustrated as follows:

  • Seasons Greetings posts on Facebook reached 1,931,949 people. 61,798 people engaged with the Facebook posts, 3,225 people shared our posts and 13,315 reacted to our content. Our engagement rate on Facebook was consistently above 1%, which is considered good and in most instances achieved engagement above 2%.
  • Our tweets were seen by 441,513 people.
  • On Instagram we reached 125,391 people



2.1. Drug Deaths 

The Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA) has published 2018 drug death statistics on Thursday 16 January 2020. This report notes 189 drug related deaths in Northern Ireland during 2018, however it should be noted that this figure includes intentional drug overdoses (ie drug assisted suicide) and non-intentional overdoses of prescription drugs. NISRA reports that 85% - 161 - of the 2018 deaths are a result of ‘drug misuse’.

The NISRA figure of 189 deaths represents a doubling of drug related deaths over a decade since 2008 and a 39% rise from the 2017 total of 136. Significant findings of the NISRA report also include -

  • Half of the 2018 deaths featured three or more different drugs
  • Heroin and morphine (opioids) featured in 40 of the 2018 deaths, the highest number on record
  • Cocaine featured in 28 of the 2018 deaths, the highest number on record
  • Diazepam featured in just over 40% of all drug related deaths in 2018
  • Pregabalin featured in just under 29% of all drug related deaths in 2019
  • Just fewer than 23% of all drug related deaths in 2018 saw alcohol recorded on the death certificate. This has been consistent level across the previous five years
  • People living in the most socially deprived areas of Northern Ireland are statistically five times more likely to die from a drug related death than those living in the least deprived areas

 2.2. Drug seizures and arrests

The latest drug seizure report was published by PSNI Statistics Branch on 30 September 2019. This report is a six-monthly publication. This report covers the year from 1 October 2018 to 30 September 2019. (UK Border Force seizures are not included within these statistics).

  • During this period there were 7,941 seizure incidents. This represents a 10.6% increase on the previous year
  • The trend from previous years continued with Cannabis (class B) being the most frequently seized drug followed by Cocaine (class A) and then by
  • Benzodiazepines (class C)
  • There were 3,618 drug related arrests during the year, an 8.9% increase on the previous year
  • Belfast City Policing District accounts for approximately one third of all drug seizure incidents and 40% of all drug related arrests during the reporting year.

The trend for both drug seizure incidents and drug related arrests within Northern Ireland are steadily and consistently increasing in line with one another since 2006. The consistent increase across all Northern Ireland drug statistics (particularly in seizure incidents, seizures across the various drug types, drug related arrests and drug related deaths) indicates that there is increased availability of drugs to meet the demands of a growing market. PSNI enforcement has continued through that period, which illustrates that enforcement alone will not reverse these trends.

2.3. Northern Ireland Drug enforcement

PSNI’s Organised Crime Unit (OCU) work with partners, including the National Crime Agency (NCA) and UK Border Force (UKBF), to tackle the large scale importation and trafficking of controlled drugs in Northern Ireland. District Policing Command (DPC) resources are focussed upon tackling street level drug dealing and misuse in local areas.

The growing issue of abuse of prescription drugs has been evident in many incidents over recent years and is a matter of great community concern. A Drug Control Strategy and supporting Drug Action Plan have been developed by Criminal Investigation Branch and the approach is to tackle the illicit drug trade on various levels simultaneously:

  • Drug importation into the UK – NCA, UKBF, An Garda Síochána (AGS), Irish Customs
  • Drug importation into NI – NCA, UKBF, PSNI OCU, AGS
  • Large scale drug trafficking within NI – PSNI OCU
  • Street level drug dealing – PSNI DPC, Police and Crime Safety Partnerships (PCSPs)

It is our assessment that 63% of Organised Crime Groups are involved in drug related criminality.

The Drug Control Strategy focuses on partnership working to tackle drugs and the specific issue of drug related deaths.

Drug enforcement actions are driven through the C1 and DPC Tasking & Coordinating Group (TTCG) process. Partners from the NCA and UKBF participate in the C1 TTCG and a governance structure has been established whereby the drug leads from DPC and C1 Organised Crime Unit meet to share information, coordinate enforcement action and to agree support across areas where required.

PSNI has seized drugs on 1441 occasions over the past two months. These represent seizures of £53K cash and controlled drugs with an estimated value of £3.3m, with a seizure occurring in Ravenhill Road this week to the value of £1m alone.

2.4. Public Health and Partnership Approach

Drugs are a focus for various bodies including PSNI, Public Health Agency and the Department of Justice. Work is coordinated at a strategic level through the Organised Crime Task Force (OCTF), the Joint Agency Task Force (JATF), Police Community Safety Partnerships (PCSP’s) and Drug and Alcohol Coordination Teams (DACT’s).

The PSNI actively contribute to the New Strategic Direction Steering Group which seeks to develop an updated and reinvigorated substance misuse strategy within the Northern Ireland strategic framework for public health. Drug abuse and mental health are often interlinked. To that effect, it is reassuring to note that the New Decade New Approach Agreement contained two relevant commitments which read as follows,

“The Executive will publish a Mental Health Action Plan within 2 months; a Mental Health Strategy by December 2020; a successor strategy and action plan to the Strategic Direction for Alcohol and Drugs Phase 2 within 3 months.”

These can only be successfully implemented via a whole system approach, of which police enforcement is but one part.

Internal tasking and co-ordination processes, Common Goals shared between Investigators and Intelligence Branch and the PSNI Drug Leads Working Group processes ensure that PSNI partners’ share intelligence, coordinate actions and clarify areas of responsibility regarding drug enforcement.

We are aware of lessons learned in various other jurisdictions wherein it has been shown that police cannot ‘arrest the way out of an embedded drug problem’. C1 is currently liaising closely with Police Scotland in order to learn from their notable progress in addressing a spiralling drug related death problem using a health led partnership approach.

There is an acceptance among partners that in terms of reducing the harm caused it is primarily a matter of public health rather than a criminal justice issue. The impact of drug and alcohol dependency and related mental health issues are evident in the police custody environment. Nearly a third of detained persons show signs of intoxication through drugs or alcohol. This was confirmed on 23 December 2019 during a meeting between senior leaders from the Department of Health, Department of Justice, Public Health Authority and the PSNI. This meeting discussed Northern Ireland drug related deaths and was chaired by the Chief Medical Officer, Dr Michael McBride.

Enforcement has a vital role to play, however there is agreement that a reduction in demand and a focus on preventative, diversionary and treatment measures are required to impact on the drug harm problem. In this regard the PSNI play a full role in supporting and complimenting partner agencies efforts to take a lead on the public health aspect of the Northern Ireland drug market. I am keen to support and strengthen these discussions in order to bring a whole system approach to reducing the harm caused by drug abuse in Northern Ireland. The value of a public health approach to problems such as drug abuse and mental health is outlined in a recent publication from the College of Policing, entitled “Public health approaches in policing (2019).” A copy has been included with this report. It states,

“The causes of the causes

Taking public health approaches means looking behind an issue or problem or illness to understand what is driving it. Often called ‘social determinants’ or ‘structural factors’, these are the circumstances such as housing, education, indebtedness and income that underpin people’s lives and make them more or less likely to:

  • experience criminal victimisation
  • have poor health outcomes, have less access to health services, and die prematurely
  • have contact with the police and other services; and
  • enter the criminal justice system.”

I believe that an effective system wide approach can reduce the overall harm caused by drug abuse, and the both the draft Programme for Government and the New Decade New Approach Agreement both drive all public sector leaders in Northern Ireland to explore the public health approach to problem solving. I am keen to explore this further with the Policing Board, and wider stakeholders.



Our next Student Officer Recruitment campaign will be launched on 4 February 2020. This event will give us the opportunity to engage further with key stakeholders from across Northern Ireland in relation to the recruitment process.

Our values based advertising campaign has been designed to complement our Outreach Plan in maximising applications from underrepresented groups in order to provide a service which is representative of the community we serve. .We also seek to tackle the barriers to recruitment by showcasing the opportunities and diversity that a career in policing can offer

The advertising campaign is based on the foundations of ‘We Care, We Listen, We Act’ and will be live across a number of mediums including social media, digital display, radio and audio, local, regional and specialist press and outdoor advertising. A briefing on our plans for this campaign was provided to the Resources Committee on 23 January 2020 and we are looking forward to a further engagement evening with the NIPB Independent Community Observers and Independent Custody Visitors on 3 February 2020.

The campaign will close on 25 February 2020, after which we will provide a further update to the Northern Ireland Policing Board regarding the outcome of our advertising campaign and associated applications received. In the meantime we continue to make appointments to our Student Officer training programme with approximately 50 candidates appointed on a monthly basis. We are recruiting to maintain current levels and await further news from the Department of Justice about our bid to increase officer numbers.



In my Report to the Board in October 2019, I presented an argument to increase the overall capacity of the Service. Allied with a request for additional police officer numbers, we have also developed arguments for estates modernisation and investment in the digitisation of the PSNI.

Since then work continued to refine the Strategic Outline Cases (SOC) relating to the three areas of focus. I am pleased to confirm that the final versions have now been formally submitted to the Justice Minister and work will now commence on the development to the Outline Business Cases (OBC).

It is encouraging to note the commitment to funding 7,500 police officers in the New Decade New Approach Agreement. I look forward to working with the Board and the Justice Minister to help land that shared ambition.

Further work will be developed to define and embed subsequent changes to the service operating model and the behaviours and culture needed to optimise the benefits to communities from investments targeted at community policing and developing a digital workforce.