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Foundations for Policing: Proposals for Policing Structures in Northern Ireland - Section 1

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1: Future of policing in Northern Ireland:
An Agenda for Reform


1.1In a speech on 25 August 1995 at Queen's University, Belfast, the Secretary of State said:
"Twenty months before the ceasefire [in a speech at Coleraine on 16 December 1992] I said: 'Freed from the threat of death at every corner, the Royal Ulster Constabulary would be free to give fresh priority to the quality and accessibility of its service'.
"That is being achieved. ... In these new circumstances extensive studies are under way, with the co-operation of the RUC, to ensure that the police service continues to be impartial, efficient and effective and accountable and responsive to the community. Adherence to these principles will ensure that the police meet people's need for safer communities, and achieve real reductions in crime and the fear of crime.
'These issues are already being comprehensively addressed. The Government will publish a White Paper ... giving firm proposals for reforms to policing structures aimed at safeguarding the operational independence of the police, and engaging the community seriously on policing issues.
"... A climate of peace offers new opportunities for enhancing the identification of the community and individual communities with policing in Northern Ireland. Already people have themselves begun to contemplate how they could play a part. "
In spite of the breakdown in the Provisional IRA ceasefire, the Government is determined to press ahead with reform. As the Prime Minister said on 12 February 1996 in a statement to the House of Commons:
"We have seen the benefits of what has been achieved since the ceasefire. ... Those benefits must not lightly be thrown away ... The Government will not be deterred by terrorism.'
1.2 Through this White Paper the Government is seeking to move forward the debate on policing in Northern Ireland. Most importantly, it makes specific proposals on policing structures - the legislative framework within which the police service will operate - but these are set within the context of more general changes. In particular the proposals will be adjusted to reflect progress or agreement flowing from consensus in political talks.
1.3Although republican and loyalist violence has ',inevitably focused public attention on terrorist crime over the last 25 years, problems of non-terrorist crime cannot be overlooked. While the incidence of such crime in Northern Ireland remains relatively low when compared with other jurisdictions, prevention of crime and dealing effectively with offenders must always be a high priority. As elsewhere, there is particular concern about the growth of drug related crime and of organised crime in general. There is accordingly a great responsibility on Government and the police service to work together in partnership with other agencies, local councils, business, the voluntary sector, community groups and the public to prevent crime, to reduce fear of crime, and to deal effectively with offenders.
1.4 The Government is committed to the further development of a fair, effective and efficient criminal justice system in Northern Ireland, commanding the confidence of the whole community. The police are a vital part of such a system, and the element with which the public have most contact.
1.5While many aspects of policing in Northern Ireland are no different from those faced by police services elsewhere, the threat of terrorist violence and the political situation in Northern Ireland provide an additional dimension which has a major influence on the debate on the future role and purpose of the police service. In the autumn of 1994, the Government, the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC), and Police Authority for Northern Ireland (PANI) all recognised the need to respond positively to the paramilitary ceasefires and to review the operation of the police service as a whole. In spite of the breakdown in the Provisional IRA ceasefire, the parties remain determined to continue,the process of reform.


1.6The Government has been examining the full range of the service provided by the police, and all aspects of the relationships between the police, the community, and Government, for some time. The main aims of the police in Northern Ireland, as in the rest of the United Kingdom, are and will remain to:

  • fight and prevent crime;
  • uphold the law;
  • bring to justice those who break the law;
  • protect, help and reassure the community; and
  • provide good value for money.
  • These are reflected in the RUCs Statement of Purpose and Values, below.

Statement of Purpose and Values


To provide a high quality, effective police service to all the people of Northern Ireland. We will work to achieve this in partnership with the community and in co-operation with other agencies.


  • to uphold the rule of law.
  • to bring to justice those who break the law.
  • to play our full part in the eradication of terrorism and the prevention of crime.
  • to help preserve the peace.
  • to protect, reassure and assist those whom we serve.


  • honesty.
  • impartiality.
  • courtesy.
  • compassion.
  • courage.


  • we will perform our duty with integrity, common sense and sound judgement and be sensitive to the views of the community in our actions.
  • we will offer assistance to members of the public irrespective of their age, sex, their political or religious beliefs or their ethnic or social background.
  • we will manage our organisation in the most professional manner, seeking the opinions of our staff, promoting equal opportunity for all and showing a willingness to change where such change is necessary.
  • we will adhere to our code of professional policing ethics.

1.7In carrying out any reform of policing, the service should be re-examined against the original ideal of policing, with the constable as a "citizen in uniform", a servant of the community, politically neutral, operating under the law with few powers not available to the ordinary citizen. The watchwords are consent and service. Crime and disorder can be countered only by an effective police service working alongside and responsive to the needs of the community at local level.
1.8This White Paper focuses particularly on the need to establish and maintain robust and durable structures for policing. But the reform of policing structures must be set in the wider context of the other developments which are taking place. The police service has recently undergone a great deal of change and further major reforms are at various stages of consideration. The change process is complex, interlinked, and ranges from issues where major legislation has been produced, or is in the process of production, to change which it is possible to bring about by executive action. Annex A gives a synopsis of the main developments currently under way.
Key areas of change involving legislation are:
  • Complaints: the Independent Commission for Police Complaints established in 1987, is being given enhanced powers, and an independent review of the whole complaints system has been set in hand;

  • Police Powers: legislation (the Police and Criminal Evidence Order (NI) 1989) has been amended recently, and revised Codes of Practice are being introduced;

  • Discipline: primary legislation amending disciplinary arrangements has been made, and work is under way on detailed Regulations; flexibility and effectiveness of procedures will be improved, and a mechanism introduced to deal with poor performance, as well as misconduct; and

  • Emergency Legislation: an independent review has been established of the continuing need for emergency legislation
1.9Changes not needing legislation which the Government, the RUC, and PANI are taking forward include:
  • The Citizens' Charter: The RUC Charter. As part of the RUCs commitment to providing improved service, the Charter sets out how the Chief Constable intends to raise standards and increase public confidence by being responsive to local expectations. As part of this process, each sub-divisional commander is now producing an information pack, on a regular basis, for distribution to elected representatives and others, to stimulate and inform dialogue.

  • Value for Money. Efficiency measures such as compulsory competitive tendering and market testing are being put in place.

  • Community Awareness. The RUC has recognised the need to develop sensitivity to and awareness of the differing aspects of the Northern Ireland community, and to keep pace with its changing nature. Training to enhance understanding of this area has been initiated, and will be further developed. drawing on experience elsewhere in the United Kingdom.


1.10The ceasefires created an atmosphere which was more conducive to informed debate on policing. In the new climate the RUC was able to enhance the already strong links it has in the community and the Police Authority was able to use its powers to consult the community more widely, The Police Authority's 1995 Community Consultation exercise involved sending leaflets inviting comments on policing to 600,000 households in the Province; commissioning a public opinion survey, and holding a series of meetings, both privately and in public. The Authority published its Report on 26 March 1996; it constitutes an important and valuable contribution to the policing debate.
1.11Much attention has focused on the views expressed in the Report on the issues of the RUCs name, badge, oath and uniform. The Government has noted with interest the outcome of the consultation exercise in relation to these issues. The findings generally reflect a lack of political agreement and no consensus to support potential legislative change in any of these areas. The Government therefore is not minded to propose legislation in these areas, but will reflect on the nature of any political agreements reached in the course of political talks which might impact on these matters.


1.12The most important area of reform, however, concerns the RUC itself, and the service it provides. The Secretary of State announced in June 1995 that the Government, the RUC, and the Police Authority, would jointly conduct a Fundamental Review of Policing which would consider the policing needs of the community and lead to a re-examination of the future organisation and size of the RUC. This wide-ranging Review will not only take account of the changes described above, but is also looking outwards; to the community in Northern Ireland, by drawing on the Police Authority community consultation initiative and using the RUCs own community consultation and opinion poll data; and further afield, drawing upon the experiences of police forces both in Great Britain and across the world. It, along with the. reform of policing structures which is the subject of this White Paper, will form the most important and comprehensive review of policing undertaken in Northern Ireland over the last 25 years. The Review will not be completed until the summer of 1996; implementation is planned to begin in April 1997 and will continue over a three-year period in the first instance. The Review is being conducted, and its findings will be evaluated, against the background of the latest assessment of the security situation.
1.13The foundation for the Fundamental Review is an assessment of the community's future policing needs which will lead to identification of key priorities and objectives for the police service, and to options for the effective and efficient delivery of the policing services required to meet these needs. There will follow an in-depth searching examination of key areas, including:
  • the future organisation of the police service;

  • its future size;

  • the number and nature of police stations;

  • the appropriate style of policing, drawing upon best practice worldwide;

  • the skills required of those in the police service; and

  • the support needed in terms of vehicles, communications, equipment etc.
1.14The Review will address both matters internal to the RUC and major policy issues of concern to the community at large. These include the religious and gender imbalances in the force, and how they might be redressed taking into account that one outcome of the Review resulting from an established peace will be a reduction in the number of police officers serving in Northern Ireland. After the ceasefires the number of applicants from the minority community substantially increased. This was a welcome development and one which the RUC is committed to encouraging. Similarly, the RUC's equal opportunities policy also aims to encourage more female applicants. It is, of course, essential that recruitment and promotion continue to take place on the strict criteria of merit and ability.


1.15The police service is facing great change. It continues to be watchful for any renewal of terrorism within Northern Ireland. However, it is keen to build on the improved relationships with the community made possible by the paramilitary ceasefires. The Government's role is to manage the change and to ensure the best interests of all parties are served. The underlying key objective, at the heart of all the Government's initiatives for policing in Northern Ireland, is the provision of a police service which:- fair, efficient, effective and impartial; accountable to the community; flexible, responsive and capable of adapting to new circumstances; and so
iv.commands widespread confidence and support within the community.


1.16The dedication and commitment of officers of the RUC and the members and staff of the Police Authority and the resilience of the community in the face of extreme pressures and sacrifices over the last 25 years provide solid foundations on which to construct a more effective service. Surveys show a large majority of the people in Northern Ireland believe the RUC already does a good job (see tables below*). The Police Authority's Community Consultation Report found that two thirds of those surveyed felt the RUC dealt fairly with everyone. The various policing reforms must build on this support to produce a service in which all can have mutual confidence and for which both the police and the public take responsibility in a strong partnership within re-defined structures for policing.

Excluding terrorism or sectarian crime, would you say that the police deal fairly with everyone?

All Persons Aged Sixteen And Over

Base = 100%20251212813
Don't know/Refusal12%10%14%

Taking everything into account, do you think that police in this area do a good job or a poor job?

All Persons Aged Sixteen And Over

Base = 100%20251212813
Very good/Fairly good74%79%67%
Neither good nor poor11 %10%14%
Fairly poor/very poor9%7%13%
Don't know/Refusal5%4%6%

* Data derived from statistics compiled by the 1995-1996 Community Attitudes Survey

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