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Friday, 23 August, 2002, 06:49 GMT 07:49 UK
Police 'stretched to limit'
Police resources are taken up with street violence
Chief officer urged civic leaders to act over violence
Northern Ireland's police service is being stretched to the limit by the continuing violence in different parts of Belfast, the acting chief constable has warned.

Colin Cramphorn told the Policing Board on Thursday officers were "simply responding to emergency calls and little else" in many areas.

In a statement to members of the board's corporate policy committee, the leading officer criticised civic leaders for failing to find proper solutions to the ongoing sectarian violence in parts of Belfast.

Colin Cramphorn
Colin Cramphorn: Statement to Policing Board

On Wednesday, at least nine police officers were injured in another night of violence at an east Belfast interface.

There have been disturbances, particularly in the north and east of the city, over recent months.

Mr Cramphorn said: "The situation had been brought about by a combination of factors outside the control of police," he said.

'Hugely-resource intensive'

"It has been too easy to label the problem as a policing problem and to turn away.

"We have been forced to scale up the levels of counter-terrorist activity right across Northern Ireland. This is hugely-resource intensive, but cannot be avoided.

We have been forced to scale up the levels of counter-terrorist activity

Colin Cramphorn

"We are now operating at an intensity greater than at any time since the 1997 cessations of hostilities, to counteract the threats posed by dissident republican and loyalist paramilitary groups."

Mr Cramphorn said new Chief Constable Hugh Orde was consulted about the policing statement.

Mr Cramphorn said he spoke to Mr Orde on Thursday.

Speaking on Friday, the acting chief constable said there was not a policing crisis, but the community had a central role to play in addressing the wider problems being faced by the service.

Mr Cramphorn said this was a significant diversion of resources away from normal policing.

He said the PSNI was dealing with an investigative burden into major crime disproportionate to the population size it served.

"In many areas we are simply responding to emergency calls and little else."

PSNI trainees

Pauline McCabe, an independent member of the Policing Board, said the future of the full-time police reserve must now be decided as a matter of urgency.

Speaking on BBC Radio Ulster on Friday, she said: "The situation regarding the full-time reserve must be looked at as part of the total picture.

"It is absolutely essential that we in the next few months make it very clear what are intentions are regarding the full-time reserve.

"It is totally unacceptable that the full-time reserve have lived under this cloud of uncertainty for as long as they have."

The Policing Board said it was seriously concerned about the issues raised by Mr Cramphorn.

Board chairman Professor Desmond Rea said: "For some time we have been extremely disturbed about the drain public order policing has had on police resources and the resulting impact to the health and welfare of officers on the ground."

DUP policing board member Sammy Wilson said he believed part of the problem was that the Patten recommendations on police reform were implemented too quickly.

Policing Board chairman Desmond Rea
Professor Desmond Rea: Concerned at report
SDLP leader Mark Durkan said he believed the violence that was putting pressure on the police was being fuelled by political uncertainty.

Sinn Fein's Mitchel McLaughlin said Mr Cramphorn's comment was an admission the PSNI was not capable of providing a proper police service.

Ulster Unionist board member Fred Cobain called for a moratorium on further severance packages.

"We must give a concrete guarantee to the full time reserve," he said.

The changes to policing in Northern Ireland came as part of sweeping reforms to the service under the terms of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement peace accord.

The new PSNI trainees were recruited on a 50:50 Catholic-Protestant basis and recruitment will continue under this quota system.

In April, the first group of 44 recruits trained specifically for the PSNI graduated.

The programme of sweeping changes to policing in Northern Ireland was begun following a report from Chris Patten's policing commission, which made more than 175 recommendations.

BBC NI's Brian Rowan
assesses the statement from the acting chief constable
Acting Chief Constable Colin Cramphorn:
"It's time for everyone to recognise that this affects them directly"
Read BBC News Online's full special report on policing reform in Northern Ireland

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See also:

22 Aug 02 | N Ireland
28 Jun 02 | N Ireland
27 Mar 02 | N Ireland
12 Sep 01 | N Ireland
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