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A report into policing in South Armagh that was commissioned after uproar over an incident in Crossmaglen on Christmas Day 2019 has just been published.

At the time the Chief Constable Simon Byrne and other PSNI officers were photographed outside Crossmaglen Police Station heavily armed and reaction on social media was swift.

The Chief Constable Simon Byrne today, 31 August met with representatives of the local community in South Armagh to discuss the findings of the report. It follows an extensive community consultation process and detailed operational analysis undertaken between February 2020 - October 2020.

The Review sought to assess the style, tone and accessibility of local policing and whether it was appropriately aligned to community expectations and needs. The findings are detailed in a 169-page report, which makes 50 recommendations for change.

Documenting the incident that led to the report where rifles and 'Kite Sights' were on display the review states "The presence of G36 weapons along with ancillary kite sight equipment in the Christmas 2019 social media post was the subject of particular public concern. Long arm, G36 rifles are routinely and overtly carried by every operational police patrol in South Armagh. At Inspector level, there is a clear expectation that this policy is complied with as a necessity for ensuring officer safety.

A ‘Kite’ is a military standard night vision sight designed specifically for short to medium range surveillance and target engagement. The associated sensitivities are clear. The use of kite sights is not common across the organisation. Only 4 Police Service armouries accessed this equipment in a 12 month period. Crossmaglen personnel utilised Kite Sights more than any other area in this period - on 30 occasions, compared with the other armouries which averaged 1.67 occasions."

The findings and recommendations focus on six core areas, including; confidence and legitimacy, organisational culture, image and identity, engagement, leadership and accountability and integrity.

The report states that although the general threat from Northern Ireland Related Terrorism is assessed as SEVERE, no security related incidents occurred in South Armagh in 2019/2020.

"In 2019/20, 53 security related incidents were recorded across Northern Ireland, none of which occurred in South Armagh. There were no recorded security related shooting incidents, paramilitary style attacks or incidents involving explosive devices. No person residing in the area was detained and charged under Section 41 Terrorism Act 2000. In the last 5 years there have been a total of 5 terrorism related searches and 1 arrest. The last terrorist incident occurred in 2015. There has been one officer attached to South Armagh who was moved out of their home under the SPED Scheme over the past 5 years.

The main threat to officer safety is generally acknowledged to emanate from organised criminality, associated with the border location and risk of serious injury on the roads. This is a reactive threat to evade arrest during the course of criminal conduct rather than proactive targeting or a primary intent to cause injury or death to a police officer."

The Chief Constable presented the findings and recommendations, alongside the local policing leadership, at a meeting of local community and elected representatives in South Armagh in line with COVID-19 public health regulations and guidance.

Chief Constable Simon Byrne said: “The purpose of this extensive review was to listen to the needs, concerns and priorities of local people in South Armagh in relation to the policing arrangements in their community and to understand their aspirations and ambitions for change.

“Some of these findings make for challenging reading. They reflect that we have not made the progress in South Armagh that we have in other areas and that our approach to policing does not currently reflect the needs and priorities of the local community. However, I hope that this Review demonstrates that we acknowledge and care that we have not been meeting the standards local people expect of us, we have listened and that we are ready to act on the opportunity for change."

The report contains many responses both from within the community and the police themselves.

“There is a threat across the province but I don’t feel it as strongly here as elsewhere. [In other places] you can actually feel the tension and I haven’t felt that here. Crossmaglen doesn’t compare with Creggan or the New Lodge. That isn’t a widely shared view but officers in South Armagh have been there a very long time and it has been that way, almost an entrenched mind-set that doesn’t take into account that things have changed.”

- Sergeant

Byrne added “Working closely with the local policing leadership, the Deputy Chief Constable will oversee implementation of the recommendations and a lot of work is already underway by local officers to make progress against these findings.

“But, this Review doesn’t mark the end of our engagement with the local community, rather the beginning. Working together, I am confident we can build on the positive engagement undertaken through this Review to realise our shared ambition for a visible, accessible, responsive and community-focused local police service.”

Local District Commander, Superintendent Norman Haslett, said: “Key to this was the in-depth consultation that took place through wide-ranging community surveys and interviews. I want to sincerely thank everyone who participated in the Review their commitment, honest input and for their enthusiasm for working together bring about meaningful change. Over the coming months, our local leadership team and officers look forward to working together with the local community to deliver meaningful, progressive change through these recommendations.”

Newry and Armagh MLA Conor Murphy has welcomed a report into policing in South Armagh and said if implemented can lead to a ‘new beginning’ to policing in the area.

Murphy said “The launch of a report into policing in South Armagh today is a huge development for the people of the area and if properly implemented, can finally deliver real policing with the community.

“Some of 50 recommendations in the report include the closure of a militaristic barracks in Crossmaglen, the removal of assault rifles on routine patrols and Irish signage on police stations.

“The report also recommends setting up an Independent Advisory Group and we will explore in greater detail its remit, powers and who will be represented on it.  

“All of these recommendations can begin to change the image of policing in South Armagh by removing the negative, militaristic style of the past which has damaged community relations.

“This report must lead to a new beginning for policing in this area to rebuild the trust and confidence of the local community. Sinn Féin are committed to working with everyone to ensure that our policing service is fit for purpose.”

The Report is available to read at WWW.PSNI.POLICE.UK

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