Police Officer abstraction levels are concerning and community safety strategic reform is needed

Effective Neighbourhood Policing is a “golden thread” but Police Officer abstraction levels are concerning and community safety strategic reform is needed: Chief Inspector of Criminal Justice in Northern Ireland
The Chief Inspector of Criminal Justice in Northern Ireland, Jacqui Durkin, says an effective community safety strategy, underpinned by connected and trusted local policing and Policing and Community Safety Partnerships (PCSPs) has the potential to transform communities in Northern Ireland.
Criminal Justice Inspection Northern Ireland’s (CJI’s) latest inspection report examined community safety strategy in Northern Ireland and partnership working.  It considered the Police Service of Northern Ireland’s (PSNI’s) performance against the eight Hallmarks of Neighbourhood Policing with a focus on Hallmark two – Engaging Neighbourhoods.  Inspectors also conducted a Follow-Up Review of CJI’s 2019 PCSPs Review as part of the inspection.
“The PSNI have a critical role in how safe people are and how safe they feel in their communities but many other leaders and service providers like health and social services, housing, education, local councils, probation, political representatives and voluntary and community organisations are key to effective community safety wherever you live in Northern Ireland,” said Ms Durkin.
“That means investing in developing effective relationships and partnerships with local people and providing the local police presence they know and feel confident to engage with, share information and get things done together.
“They all form an important part of the community safety landscape where Departmental policies, strategies and priorities are intended to be delivered through a complex network of governance structures and organisations.  However, it is a crowded landscape and there needs to be an effective community safety vision, strategy and action plan that are owned and known by all involved in its delivery,” she said.
The Chief Inspector said Inspectors were impressed by the dedicated, hardworking and passionate Neighbourhood Officers they met, and the value of effective Neighbourhood Policing was a “golden thread” throughout the inspection.  Community groups and representatives spoke highly about Neighbourhood Officers noting that they were visible, accessible, responsive and community focused.
However, there were concerns about abstraction (taking Officers away from their core neighbourhood duties to other roles) and more information on the scale and impact of this was needed.  Inspectors also heard that frequent changes to senior Police Officers were a frustration for community representatives who had built relationships with them.
This inspection report makes one strategic and eight operational recommendations for improvement including the Department of Justice leading the creation of a new community safety vision, strategy and action plan for delivery in Northern Ireland.  Mapping community safety structures operating across Northern Ireland and creating an overview of purpose, membership, funding arrangements, governance and outcomes is a key operational recommendation to provide clarity for all operating and funding services.
Recommendations for the PSNI included reviewing their Abstraction Policy and a reassessment of the commitment to 16 hour a day Neighbourhood Policing cover to ensure better utilisation of resources.
“The continued implementation of the Hallmarks of Neighbourhood Policing and synergy between ambitious Police and Community Safety Partnerships connected to each other and with a realistic and contemporary knowledge of issues in the communities they serve are key to making the improvements needed.  However, improving assessment of Neighbourhood Policing performance with a focus on quality and outcomes was needed rather than relying on quantitative measures,” Ms Durkin said.
“Inspectors heard unanimous support for the PSNI throughout inspection fieldwork with a wide range of stakeholders voicing support for the Police and wanting them to succeed.  This included communities that would traditionally have been hostile to the Police where support was growing despite attempts to prevent engagement taking place,” she said.
The Chief Inspector acknowledged that there are still security threats and challenges that make Neighbourhood Policing particularly difficult in some communities.  She also recognises the budget pressures and hard decisions needed about priorities but said it was also vital not to lose the ground gained in Neighbourhood Policing and its positive impact on connections and meaningful engagement with citizens in local communities and the issues they face.