The landscape of crime and policing in Northern Ireland has changed radically over the last 20 years. Over the last decade of austerity in the UK, they saw their budget reduced by 25%, resulting in 17% fewer officers. Despite these huge cuts, crime rates actually dropped by 33% over the same period.
The end of the Troubles left the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) with a unique challenge: now that they no longer had to allocate such significant resources to tacking violent crime and terrorism, what should they focus on? Criminal damage and theft had decreased; however, police now needed to deal with complex crimes like sexual exploitation and cyber harassment.
What was needed was a significant shift in resource allocation and police priorities, which they put to the public in a huge engagement exercise called the Local Policing Review 2018. For the online engagement activity, they chose to use Simulator.
Respondents were allocated 100 points to ‘spend’ on the areas of policing that mattered to them the most, such as community policing, criminal justice investigations and emergency response. Each decision they made was accompanied by informative impact statements, detailing what real-world implications their choices would have were the PSNI to adopt them.
They had a huge response, with 4328 people responding to the Simulator and over 3000 people attending consultation events. Now, the PSNI is implementing changes based on the feedback they received and the priorities identified. The public’s input will ensure that policing is more effective and in tune with community needs moving forward.
One of the things they’re testing is single-officer patrols. Traditionally, police have always patrolled in pairs, and historically this would have been inconceivable in terms of officer safety. However, the trial reflects the change across the country and the safer Northern Irish environment. Chief Constable Simon Byrne said that the trials will be assessed to see if officers are confident patrolling on their own and if the public support the action.
Policing Board chair Professor Anne Connolly said: “We were hugely encouraged by the willingness of people and organisations across the public, private and voluntary sectors to engage with us during the consultation and the feedback received reinforced for us the importance of policing in our community.
“The findings of the consultation will now inform the Northern Ireland Policing Plan and Local Policing Plans moving forward.”
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