PSNI chief says paramilitaries remain 'very real' threat
The Police Service of Northern Ireland's Acting Chief Constable said today "unprecedented" levels of street violence had tarnished the image of Northern Ireland around the world.
Launching the PSNI's first annual report since the name change from the RUC in November, Acting Chief Constable Colin Cramphorn also warned that paramilitaries remained a "very real" threat, and was reflected in a rise in shootings and bombings in the past year.
The demands on the PSNI of dealing with the threat of paramilitary activity and street violence were extensive, he said, and showed in a large jump in ordinary recorded crime, an equally substantial drop in the crime clearance rate and the huge hours of overtime worked by officers.
He revealed that some 315 people were charged with terrorist or serious public disorder offences during the year.
"At a time when people from all sections of the community are coming forward to both join the Police Service and to support policing generally, those who carry out these attacks deserve more than ever to be marginalised and rejected by the community," he said
Turning to the continuing sectarian street violence, Mr Cramphorn said "too often throughout the last year television pictures of serious public disorder here have been flashed around the world.
"The unprecedented levels of violence, particularly in north Belfast, tarnish Northern Ireland's reputation both as a destination for visitors and as an investment opportunity.
"Police officers carrying our their duty to protect life and property were the targets of vicious attacks from both communities," he said.
"The violence put a severe strain on finite police resources. With large numbers of officers tied up in public order duties, local commanders had to make some very difficult decisions on how to best meet every day policing demands.
"Inevitably performance in these areas has suffered as a direct consequence," said Mr Cramphorn.
He revealed the level or recorded crime, at 139,786 offences, was up 16.6 per cent on the year. A major factor was a new recording system but there was an underlying increase in crime overall.
The crime clearance rate - those solved - went down a substantial 7 per cent to 20.1 per cent, he revealed.
The report covered a year of massive upheaval for policing in Northern Ireland - embracing organisational, cultural and symbolic changes, said Mr Cramphorn. While the word historic was too often used inappropriately, it was not out of place to describe the "unprecedented" developments in policing.
The departure - under the Patten Report voluntary severance reforms - of almost 800 officers brought to nearly 1,300 the number of officers who had left in 15 months, he said.
The year also saw the demise of the old Police Authority and its replacement with the Policing Board with members drawn from three of the main political parties.
Sinn Fein have refused to take their seats so far, but Mr Cramphorn made it clear he wanted them in: "I look forward to a time when all shades of political and cultural opinion will play a full part in the development of policing services."
Mr Cramphorn made brief reference to the row between the Policing Ombudsman and recently retired Chief Constable Sir Ronnie Flanagan over the handling of the investigation into the Omagh bombing.
It had brought the relationship between service and Ombudsman Nuala O'Loan into "sharp focus", he said.
"There are profoundly different and strongly-held views on the investigation and the report, which remain the subject of judicial proceedings," he said.
But the focus of the Police Service was on advancing the Omagh investigation "as far as it is possible so to do".