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Last Updated: Thursday, 28 September 2006, 05:39 GMT 06:39 UK
PSNI reforms 'may be undermined'
Al Hutchinson
Al Hutchinson oversees the implementation of the Patten report
Plans to reduce the number of police command units could undermine key reforms of the Patten Report, the Oversight Commissioner has warned.

The police have 29 district command units across Northern Ireland - but by next year there will be just eight.

The number is being cut in response to the reform of local government, which will see the number of local councils drastically reduced.

However, Al Hutchinson said this could affect intelligence-gathering.

The police oversight commissioner said the re-organisation of policing must not reverse the devolution and delegation of decision-making to local commanders.

The proposed new super-district commands need to be very carefully considered.
Alex Attwood

"While there is no denying the advantages offered by merging district council areas for the sake of both governance and policing efficiency, adapting to the Review of Public Administration has the potential to at least temporarily disrupt local police and community relationships," he said.

"This was about getting policing down to the local policing level.

"We have local beat and community policing teams and police in sector areas patrolling a local area working with the communities.

"There is also an inherent risk to the decision-making authority of the leadership of neighbourhood policing teams, as DCU commanders grow geographically more distant from their neighbourhoods and their local policing partners."

In his 17th report on the implementation of the Patten reforms, Mr Hutchinson said the proposed devolution of policing and justice to the assembly would be a step forward, but warned of the consequences of political failure.

"As long as collective politics continue to fail policing in Northern Ireland, and society fails to give its support to policing, the success of further policing reforms will be impeded," he said.

SDLP policing spokesman Alex Attwood said the proposed new "super-district commands" needed to be very carefully considered.

"It is imperative that any adjustments to the Patten structures of policing jump all the other Patten hurdles around community policing, local accountability for police conduct and performance and increasing the numbers of police officers on the beat in local neighbourhoods," he said.

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