THE Vice-Chairman of the NI police union says the force in Londonderry employs a massive but unsustainable amount of overtime to meet local policing needs and that officers are sooner or later going to be burnt out, the Sentinel can reveal.
Speaking at the Northern Ireland Select Committee at Westminster Mark Lindsay said the issue of sickness, morale and police numbers are all linked and that the hours officers are working at the moment are “unsustainable.”
“The hole that is left by insufficient police numbers is being filled by overtime,” he told MPs. “Now at the moment there is a concentration on the public disorder and there is a massive surge in police overtime.
“In some districts such as North and West Belfast, Londonderry, along the border counties, have that surge all the time. Those officers sooner or later are going to be burnt out. You cannot sustain 100 hours plus per month across the year.”
Mr Lindsay made the revelation before being interrupted by DUP MP Ian Paisley Jnr who suggested it would be prudent not to air these concerns in a public forum.
During the same session the Chairman of the NI Police Federation Terry Spence also painted a picture of a local service stretched to breaking point.
Mr Spence told the committee how 90 officers have been forced to leave their homes over recent months. In the last six weeks 129 have been injured whilst 350 have been hurt since last summer.
He spoke of an elongated “marching season through from last year through the autumn, winter into what is now a fastly approaching springtime” and of fatigued officers daily putting their lives on the line.
“Overtime is huge. Officers are working around the clock. It means many of the officers are fatigued. Some of them didn’t see their families at all over the Christmas and New Year period,” he said.
The police federation spokesperson said this was likely to get even worse unless extra resources are urgently provided.
He expects 1200 officers to maximise their pension benefits by leaving between now and 2015 and estimated this will leave the PSNI with around 6000 officers - a breach of the Patten recommendations.
“Now Patten said that he envisaged 7,500 being the establishment figure in a peaceful scenario,” Mr Spence told the Committee.
“We don’t have any semblance of a peaceful scenario. The threat level has been described by the Chief Constable as at the upper end of severe and we have these murders taking place.”
He said both loyalist paramilitaries and dissident republicans have murdered people over the last year.
“We have loyalist paramilitaries who are much more active and pose a real threat to the peace process,” he said.
“Both loyalist paramilitaries and dissident republicans have been engaged in murder in the last 12 months. So it’s not getting better any time soon and that’s why we believe we need these resources urgently,” he added.
He said he expected the Chief Constable Matt Baggott to start a recruitment process to meet the policing shortfall by the end of this year, however, he said the current reliance on overtime is unsustainable and recruitment should start now.
Addressing the issue of rioting he said his members rejected the policy of a “graduated response” as ha been employed by the PSNI in order to deal with the ongoing Union Flag protests.
He said officers favoured a “robust response” to rioters so that a safe distance is maintained between protestors and police lines.
This, he argued, would prevent a lot of injuries caused by rioters aiming heavy masonry, petrol bombs and in some cases blast bombs at police and thereby prevent sickness leave and further overtime. He also argued for a judicial clampdown on both rioters and dissident republicans.
He called for anyone suspected of rioting to be remanded in custody.
“Our firm belief is to take these people off the streets they need to be remanded in custody,” he said.
He also said Londonderry dissident republican Phillip O’Donnell (aged 44) who was involved in the car bombing of the Strand Road police station in 2010 should have been jailed for longer.
“It’s the same with those who are convicted of terrorist acts because we feel as a police federation that the courts have been overly lenient and in some cases where someone has been engaged in blowing up a road close to a police station in Londonderry that 11 years imprisonment was the sentence that was meted out which was quite incredible,” he said.