Federation says NIPB use of force report ‘misses the point’

The Police Federation for Northern Ireland (PFNI) said the whole issue of issuing firearms to officers “misses a central point” after a report published on Wednesday (January 18) raised questions over the criteria for arming all Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) officers.

Jan 18, 2023
By Paul Jacques
PFNI chair Liam Kelly

The Northern Ireland Policing Board (NIPB) also said the fact that the weapons are rarely discharged means the force should consider the issue as part of its long-term plans (see https://www.policeprofessional.com/news/threat-level-reduction-raises-question-over-arming-of-psni-officers-report-says/).

Unlike in the rest of the UK and the Republic of Ireland, in Northern Ireland all police officers currently carry Glock handguns.

The report recommends: “The reduction in the security threat level in Northern Ireland and the fact that officers very rarely have to fire their firearms raises a question about what the criteria should be for issuing firearms to all officers rather than, as in the rest of the UK and the Republic of Ireland, only to those specially trained in their use.”

But PFNI chair Liam Kelly said: “We have a terrorist threat level directed at our officers, which is why they are entitled to personal protection weapons.

“Day and daily, both on and off duty, our officers are being targeted, and they must have the ability to defend themselves.

“Yet again, it appears that officer rights under Article 2 of the European Convention of Human Rights are not being effectively advocated by the NIPB, and that is a source of great disappointment.”

The NIPB has published its annual human rights report, along with a special report examining the use of force by the PSNI.

And Mr Kelly has also questioned a series of recommendations made in the NIPB report on the use of force by officers, including one that rejects the expanded use of Tasers or Conducted Energy Devices.

Mr Kelly said: “This has been launched alongside a Human Rights review but the use of force report is devoid of acknowledging the human rights of police officers.

“We agree wholeheartedly with the practical and sensible recommendation by His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services to expand the use of Tasers as they are a credible, less lethal tactical option that afford much better protection to officers dealing with violent incidents.

“In Northern Ireland, we have around 100 specialist officers trained in the use of Tasers, and it is our view that every frontline officer should have the option to be equipped with the device.”

He added: “What the Board and its Human Rights Adviser appear to be advocating would see potentially more officers attacked and seriously hurt. Tasers are effective. They are used instead of the more lethal option of a firearm in life-threatening situations and their value as a deterrent must not be under-estimated.

“Instead of paying lip service to our officers’ human rights and inhibiting their ability to protect both themselves and the public, the Board should be focusing on supporting the PSNI to get an effective budget so the chief constable can recommence recruitment, increase much-needed resources and ensure our officers are paid properly.

“Overall, this report shows scant regard for officer health and safety. They are expected to intervene in vicious brawls and confront violent assailants, and the Board seems to think they can do that job by reasoning with dangerous and often armed assailants.

“Real world policing invariably is not conducted in a eutopia nor can interactions always be fully replicated in simulated training environments.

“Our officers do not fear accountability or oversight. What they do fear is the inability to protect themselves, their colleagues and victims of crime because they are not being provided with the requisite support and available equipment necessary to enable them to do their jobs.”

The PFNI has also criticised the six-month delay in officers receiving the pay award that was agreed last summer.

It described it as “a monumental mess” by departments that must sign off on the award.

Mr Kelly, said: “Our officers are caught in the grip of the most severe financial crisis in living memory. Small though it is, the anticipated pay increase would have been a big help over recent months.

“Yet, here we are in January and there’s still no sign-off of the additional money. It’s a monumental mess and it shows a callous indifference to the financial plight our men and women are experiencing.

“Do the people who juggle the numbers not realise the impact their foot-dragging is having on the people I represent?

“Do they not care about the everyday hardships officers and their families are experiencing?

“When will someone in a position of authority sign the approvals to get the ball rolling? This pay award has now been pushed back to February at the earliest and I am seeking assurances that the delays will no longer be tolerated.”

He added: “I want to be clear. This isn’t the fault of the PSNI. The Service is committed to paying this immediately, but is being hamstrung by the Departments of Justice and Finance. Officers are being treated disgracefully by departments. It’s time they stopped dithering.”

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