More than 43 per cent of police stations on either side of the Border have closed since the Belfast Agreement came into force in 1998.
An analysis by Belfast investigative outlet The Detail of the number of police stations within a 10-mile radius of the Border has found 40 have been closed by the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) and An Garda Síochána over the past two decades. In 1998, there were 92 police stations within a 10-mile radius.
Today 52 stations remain operational, although most are part-time or have limited public opening hours. None of the 11 Border police stations in the North are open to the public on a 24-hour basis; in the South eight of the 41 stations are open 24 hours a day.
The PSNI declined to provide details of which stations operate on a 24-hour basis. PSNI superintendent Simon Walls said: "The reality of modern policing is that it is delivered by people and not buildings. We will continue to provide a service that is reflective of the issues and concerns of the local community."
Significantly more Border stations were closed in the North than in the South – 28 run by the PSNI or its predecessor the RUC have closed since 1998, compared to 12 Garda stations. Today 11 PSNI stations and 41 Garda stations remain operational within a 10 mile-radius of the 300-mile Border which has 275 crossings.
The UK government has said Brexit will not see any physical infrastructure along the Border. However, the UK has been accused of pursuing Brexit policies which will harden the Border and of not providing answers as to how that can be avoided.
The Centre for Cross Border Studies, an independent research and policy think tank, said the Border "has only been addressed as a high-level principle at the Brexit negotiating table".
"Security and other issues, the nitty gritty and the day-to-day practicalities that will directly affect the lives of communities on both sides of the Border [have] not been fully examined or explored in any meaningful way to date," deputy director of the Centre for Cross Border Studies Dr Anthony Soares told The Detail.
“There is the potential for increased criminality and for increased activity by paramilitary organisations on both sides of the Border. It’s an underlying indication of what may happen post-Brexit,” Dr Soares added.
Introducing any new physical infrastructure or reopening police stations along the Border would also bring risks, Mr Soares said. “If Brexit means reintroducing any infrastructure near or at the Border, including police stations, they will become a potential target for attacks,” he said.
The reality that the Border is exploited for criminal gain is not lost on the PSNI and Garda. A joint threat assessment of organised crime, published in September 2016, identified the abuse of the Common Travel Area as a “current threat”. The Common Travel Area, the biennial report noted, “could be open to exploitation by criminals, illegal immigrants and extremists who use the Border to facilitate and enable criminality.”
Police chiefs have confirmed that contingency planning for Brexit and its implications on Border policing is in train. There are concerns among rank-and-file police officers in the North, however, about current staffing levels and resources.
The Police Federation of Northern Ireland said the decline in the number of officers was of greater concern than the number of Border stations.
Federation chair Mark Lindsay said: "The number of police stations along the Border isn't of significant concern in terms of being able to put boots on the ground. What is worrying, however, is a fall in the number of police officers and that is a real concern on a day-to-day basis for policing across Northern Ireland. "
Mr Lindsay said the strength of the force fell short of the almost 7,000-member threshold accepted by police management in 2014 or the 7,500 officers recommended in the Patten report. “There’s not near enough staff in place to meet current policing demands, let alone deal with a new European frontier after Brexit.”
Brexit, Mr Lindsay said, will bring challenges and risks, regardless of the type of border that emerges. “No matter whether there is a hard or a soft border there is going to be a policing requirement and that will mean the need for additional resources.”