Police in the North are set to ground one of their three helicopters as part of a cost-cutting response to a “grim” and “bleak” budget, the PSNI chief constable has said.
Simon Byrne told the Northern Ireland Policing Board that future PSNI recruitment rounds were also set to be paused as the organisation grappled with a £107 million (€125 million) shortfall.
Addressing the monthly meeting of his oversight body, Mr Byrne warned of a dramatic reconfiguration of neighbourhood policing services, with fewer officers deployed on local beats.
The PSNI has previously had 700 officers involved in neighbour policing teams. Mr Byrne said the figure was now set to drop gradually to as low as 250.
The region’s most senior officer has initiated a 90-day review to examine potential savings.
This will include consideration of closing some stations to the public and reducing opening hours at others.
However, Mr Byrne told board members that he was not following the move taken by the Metropolitan Police in London to stop responding to non-life-threatening, mental health callouts.
“The budgetary outlook this year is bleak,” Mr Byrne said in his monthly update to the board.
He said moves to pause recruitment and several other immediate cost-cutting steps would reduce the funding gap from £107 million to £43 million.
“Quite how we realistically address this gap at the moment is unclear given the wider cost savings we have already agreed or introduced,” he added.
“The reality is that this funding will lead to cuts in resources and directly impact the frontline services to communities.”
Mr Byrne warned of “difficult choices” ahead as he said it was “extremely difficult to see how costs can be maintained within this budget at the same time as keeping people safe”.
From September, Met Police officers in London will stop attending the majority of mental health incidents and only respond to mental health 999 calls involving an immediate threat to life.
“We’re anxious (about) announcing an immediate withdrawal because our fear is it is contrary to some of our values and ethos around care, community policing, etc,” Mr Byrne told board members.
“And equally, just to withdraw now, against a system that’s already broken, I don’t think it’s going to necessarily solve the problem, it will just put on more pressure.
“I was only yesterday talking with somebody whose experience of A&E frankly was quite horrendous and if we sort of walked out and just added to that pressure, I just think will present sort of unmanageable problems for health colleagues.”
Mr Byrne said there was room to improve how the PSNI triaged certain mental health related calls.