The PSNI: a fresh start or a tainted force?

I don’t like policemen. I associate them with authority and with the penalties that authority can impose on me for stepping out of line. Which of course is another way of saying I don’t like being caught doing the wrong thing and punished. So maybe the problem lies with me and not the cops. Or then again, maybe not.

“A policeman’s lot is not a happy one” the cop chorus in The Pirates of Penzance sang, and I’m sure the job can be testing. Not as bad as traffic wardens, maybe, but then how could they be? The feeling that every man and woman’s response to your presence is to feel guilty might be kinda fun from a power-trip point of view, but in terms of human relations it must chafe.

What’s that – haven’t we got a spanking new PSNI service  with 50-50 recruitment? The RUC is gone, the PSNI has replaced them. What am I complaining about?

A number of things, actually. Talk to Mark Thompson, the Director of the Relatives for Justice organization. He says that if any member of his extended family is suffering from some crime – a burglary, a traffic accident, drunken violence – the PSNI are exemplary in their response. But let any member of his extended family try to find out more about the death of his brother, killed by the RUC in the early 1990s, and you can forget it. Closed ranks. Not an inch. Sorry, can’t help you, sir.

There are a few other problems with the PSNI. The Patten report arranged more-than-generous terms for former RUC men to retire, and many availed of it. But not all. A lot of former RUC men found their way back into the PSNI. How many? Well, Freedom of Information requests from Relatives for Justice was told 300 former RUC people were recruited at a cost of £44 million. Which is a lot, except that it’s not the true figure, according to Thompson. The true figure, it seem, is 1071 former RUC officer re-employed at a cost of £102 million. This is not illegal, but it reduces massively public trust in a new beginning with the PSNI.

Then there’s the 50-50 recruitment. It continued for ten years and then was ended. At present the number of Catholics in the PSNI is around 30%. As we know, the Catholic population here generally is 45% – some would considerably more. But either way, despite everything, the PSNI remains a 70% Protestant police service/force, with a strong pong of the RUC about it, which manages not to cc-operate with those who are seeking truth and justice for their loved ones .

Anybody who remembers the beginning of the Troubles will appreciate what a central role perception of the police played in civil disturbance. If we can’t get our police service right, despite all the money and all the reforms that have supposedly been implemented – if it still has character traits reminiscent of the discredited RUC – then we’re only storing up problems for the future. Both the SDLP and Sinn Féin have called for the restoration of 50-50 recruitment. What do you think are the chances that their call will be heeded?

Brendan Behan said that there was no situation so bad that the arrival of a policeman could not make it worse. We can only guess what he’d have thought about the police service we’ve allowed to develop. Somebody should ask Chris Patten what he thinks.




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