By Alex Maskey MLA, Sinn Féin Policing Board member
Policing has again reached a critical juncture but with a fresh opportunity to accelerate the process of change.
The Policing Board has recently appointed a new chief constable, deputy chief constable and assistant chief constables; while the board itself has elected a new chair, vice-chair and recruited a new chief executive.
Local DPPs have become even more reflective of the communities they represent.
This in effect has created a new leadership of the PSNI and the Policing Board.
Coupled with the board finally getting to grips with the wastage involved in the retention, for many years, of redundant and derelict barracks, all of this provides us with a fresh opportunity to deliver on the kind of changes which are pa-tently still required.
Having secured a substantial mandate from both our party as well as from the electorate over two years ago, Sinn Féin took up our membership of the Policing Board and district policing partnerships.
From the time of this hugely significant development our members have worked tirelessly to deliver on our hard-won mandate, to deliver a police service which is representative of and responsive to the whole community.
As I have repeatedly said, no-one can credibly argue that significant changes have not occurred throughout these past few years as a direct result of the Good Friday Agreement. But crucially, much further change is still required to make the PSNI a police service which all of us can truly say we have full confidence in to deliver a fair and effective service in real partnership with the community.
As a party our approach as members of the Policing Board and DPPs has been to help deliver a police service which everyone can support by both holding the PSNI to account while building trust and good working relationships with the police themselves along with the other board and partnership members.
This approach has been challenging to our members on these bodies at times but rewarding in that we believe we have been able to help deliver continual improvements to policing.
Sinn Féin is totally committed to making our communities safer for all citizens by having a police service which prevents crime, detects more crime and helps bring more criminals to justice through the courts.
For Sinn Féin, having the PSNI work in partnership with the whole community is an essential element of this change and by all accounts the incoming chief constable is an international leader in this style of policing. Matt Baggott will of course be fully tested on this in time.
Clearly it is the responsibility of the PSNI to work hard to earn the support of the wider community and only they themselves can do this.
In relation to specifically securing that support within the republican and nationalist community, the PSNI must effectively address the range of concerns which have been repeatedly articulated to them.
These concerns include:
- the need to provide an efficient civic police service, willing and able to tackle crime and antisocial behaviour
- the use of plastic bullets which have no place in any civic policing service nor any place in society, especially given the number of injuries and fatalities caused by these weapons
- tolerance of loyalist/sectarian activity as witnessed throughout the summer in areas like Coleraine and indeed elsewhere
- that Hugh Orde’s refusal as chief constable to provide information to the coroner’s court in relation to a number of high-profile inquests including those of Pearse Jordan and Roseanne Mallon undoubtedly tarnished him in the eyes of many nationalists and republicans.
Sinn Féin believes that the transfer of policing and justice powers is the next necessary step in helping all the communities to have a real say in shaping the wider policing and criminal justice system to meet the needs of our communities.
The transfer of powers will also allow all the people here to better shape and hold the criminal justice system more fully to account as a public service in the hands of locally elected representatives.