Station switch is step forward, say top officers

By Staff Reporter

The PSNI have rejected claims that community policing and response times will be affected by a restructuring of local services within the organisation.

As of April 1, neighbourhood policing teams and the PSNI response units in West Belfast will all be based at Woodbourne station.  As we’ve previously reported, residents in the lower Falls have expressed concern that the response teams are to leave Grosvenor Road station, with some claiming they felt the area was being abandoned.

In an interview with the Andersonstown News, the PSNI’s most senior officers in the district said the restructuring will not affect policing on any level.

We met with Chief Superintendent George Clarke, District Commander of North and West Belfast, and Chief Inspector Emma Bond, Area Commander of West Belfast, at Woodbourne station to discuss the changes and to convey some of the concerns felt by locals about the plans.

“These changes are the results of the ‘Service First’ business project,” explained CS Clarke.

“We are constantly looking at ways to increase our efficiency and some interesting conclusions were drawn by the team of officers and external business consultants tasked with this project.

“At the minute we deliver responses through four sites in North and West Belfast but that will be two from April 1.  West Belfast’s response site will be based at Woodbourne, that means the response units and neigbourhood policing teams will all be based at Woodbourne. Grosvenor station will not be closing down, other departments will continue to work from that site.

“The idea is to give greater efficiency as the units will all work from one site and a new team, a Case Progression Team, will also be established at Woodbourne.

 

Investigation

“As it stands, if an officer in the response team makes an arrest, they then have to work through the paperwork and investigation but the Case Progression Team will have that role now, meaning the response teams can spend more time on patrol on the street where they are needed.”

Both officers said that Woodbourne was chosen as the main site due to its size, its enhanced facilities and its travel links.

“The move also helps with management as all my teams will be based here so there can be a daily sharing of issues, so practically it makes sense,” said CI Bond, who rejected any suggestion that the lower Falls was being abandoned.  She highlighted the success of Operation Echinus, the policing initiative aimed at combating crime in the lower Falls district, and said the spike in anti-social activity over Christmas must be seen in context.

“Against a continuing downturn, a slight increase in anti-social activity can feel worse,” she said.  “Due to Operation Echinus, crime is down by 19 per cent and anti-social behavior is down by 17 per cent compared to the previous year. A slight increase creates the perception that the situation is worse when it isn’t. There may well have been a spike, but since January 31st arrests of prolific and repeat offenders have been made.”

CI Bond also denied reports that the PSNI’s Auto Crime Team has been affected by the ongoing tension at Twaddell Avenue where police are drafting in extra officers to patrol and supervise the loyalist protest camp and nightly demonstrations.

“No teams have been closed down as a result of the situation at Twaddell Avenue,” stressed CS Clarke. “Some officers may be carrying out public order duties in addition to their own duties, but I do not get a sense that it has massively affected the Auto Crime Team or any other department.”

He added that more officers and not fewer will be on the streets of the district thanks to the new system.

“Twelve extra officers will be on the streets of West Belfast from April 1 as a result of of this project,” he said. “We are putting more people into neighbourhood policing because that’s what is key to making people feel safe.

“In the likes of Divis and the lower Falls, the key isn’t having a big station in the area, but having people on the ground and that’s our focus.

“This is not like the Fire Service, where officers are sitting waiting for a call – they are already out on patrol in the area. Woodbourne is just the base where they get ready at the start and end of the shift. These changes will not affect policing on the ground as the police are already on the ground. The station is just a building, it’s people that make the difference – officers and the public.”­

Editorial, page 21

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