SDLP Policing Board member Dolores Kelly MLA and South Armagh Councillor Pete Byrne have welcomed the publication of the South Armagh Policing Review and recommendations, including the closure of Crossmaglen Police Station.
Dolores Kelly MLA said:
“This review and the recommendations published today are of huge significance to people living in South Armagh. People here have been living with the vestiges of an ingrained militaristic policing operation for far too long. The reality for people in places like Crossmaglen is that they haven’t had a real chance to experience a new beginning to policing because of the attitude and the practice of the PSNI.
“In many areas, the report is an operational catch up on the Patten recommendations. But if implemented quickly and faithfully, I know that it will make a huge difference to people in South Armagh and remove barriers to a more effective policing relationship in these communities.
South Armagh Councillor Pete Byrne said:
“Following the now infamous Christmas Day tweet in 2019, the SDLP and I have engaged extensively with the PSNI to try and change their perception of Crossmaglen, South Armagh and its people. This led to the Chief Constable launching a review into how policing is conducted in the area, which after a long period of internal review has finally been published today. I am impressed at how far reaching and significant some of recommendations will be to people in South Armagh. We engaged in this process in good faith, expending both time and effort through our community groups alongside honest political engagement to get this point. It is clear that engagement has been recognised and now forms the basis for the recommendations for change to policing in South Armagh.
“Over a 3-5 year period, the review puts forward 50 recommendations ranging from local policing style and responsiveness to community and cross border engagement. Some immediate recommendations have already been successfully implemented over the last few months, with clear lines of communication established between police and elected representatives. In addition, we have seen the move to the new Neighbourhood Policing model which shows a clear desire to develop community relationships and indicates there’s an urgency on both sides to implement all the recommendations outlined today. It's a task that must be realised in its entirety, as we cannot have a repeat of the failures of the past where many of the 175 recommendations outlined in the Patten Report have remained aspirations for more than 20 years. The recommendations back then aren’t far off the ones in front of us today, but we have a to do list now that is tailored to South Armagh alone and we must seize this opportunity for change.
“The recommendation to close Crossmaglen Police Station is historic and we can’t understate what this will mean to people in the town. Crossmaglen has been at peace with itself for considerable amount of time now but the police station remains the last visual reminder of militaristic policing and contributed to a perception that people here want to change. There are also recommendations regarding Newtownhamilton Police Station including an aesthetic replacement of its external security fencing and the opening of the square to parking and two-way traffic flow.
“Since this process began, I consistently highlighted the institutionalised perception that the PSNI have about South Armagh and our people. I am pleased that the report acknowledges this perception and goes as far as stating that people in South Armagh were treated with suspicion which led to negative organisational behaviours and to the heavy-handed tweet in 2019. It is now abundantly clear that it is the police structures that created the barriers to progress and not the local community. The removal of the G36 assault rifle as a routine piece of equipment is key to moving forward along with the recommendation to resource police officers in relation to the issue being dealt with rather than the history of the area.
“I look forward to engaging with the Chief Constable and the local policing team in the weeks and months ahead to ensure the momentum for change continues. We now have a real opportunity to right the wrongs of the past by implementing all 50 recommendations in a timely manner. Over the last year we have seen how organisations can quickly adapt and change. The community in South Armagh are ready for change and look forward to the positive future this review envisages.”