Frontline 999 PSNI services `to be cut back'

It is envisaged that the biggest cuts will fall on the frontline response units

POLICE chiefs are making plans for budget cuts which could see fewer front-line officers on the streets to deal with 999 emergencies.

The Irish News understands that contingency plans have been made to cut up to 15 per cent from some areas of the PSNI budget.

Rank and file officers are being informed of how their sections will be affected.

It is envisaged that the biggest cuts would fall on the frontline response units, with some high-crime towns seeing the number of officers on the ground on busy weekend evenings fall to single figures.

The new policing landscape - which is expected to become a reality in the absence of a Stormont executive to agree a new budget - will place additional stress on already struggling `beat' officers.

Deputy Chief Constable Drew Harris said the service has been asked by the Department of Justice "to consider a range of budget scenarios as outlined in the Northern Ireland Budgetary Outlook 2018-20 Briefing Paper published by Department of Finance in December 2017."

He added: "(The) PSNI are currently considering the potential impact of the illustrative budget scenarios and will continue to work to prioritise resources to deliver an effective police service focussed on keeping people safe."

However, Mark Lindsay, Police Federation NI chairman, warned, despite efforts to try to protect 999 responses, "it's inevitable that the same level of service cannot be maintained".

"We are not able to do more with less," he said.

Mr Lindsay said, having already seen £220 million in cuts since 2010, the PSNI is "simply not capable of absorbing any more savage pruning while delivering the same service".

"In a time of decreasing budgets, the police are still expected to pick up the slack in other under-funded services and that simply is not sustainable," he said.

"This is unsustainable and wrong. We have been warning of the damage that cuts will do, and now it’s time for a public outcry."

Federation figures show earlier budget cuts led to a decline in response times for emergency 999 calls, with 2017 seeing a 13.7 percentage point fall in the five minute target being reached by officers.

There was a corresponding increase in response times taking more than 20 minutes over the same period.

Job losses are not expected, with a recruitment process already underway for around 300 new officers.

Last year, six Station Enquiry Offices closed and hours were reduced elsewhere due to budget cuts, with Musgrave Street in Belfast now the only PSNI station open to the public 24-hours a day.

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