PSNI: Forward – and backward- steps as familiar refrain rings out from Stoneyford

Relations between the northern nationalist community and the PSNI have improved in recent times as a result of political developments and some progress in terms of both the attitude and actions of PSNI officers at ground and operational level. At anecdotal levels, I know of strengthening relationships between the PSNI and political and community representatives which has directly led to criminal activity being identified and dealt with effectively b y the PSNI. There is also evidence that the PSNI in some areas have taken steps to pro-actively deal with the type of low-level criminal behaviour which so frequently is identified by the public- nationalist, unionist and otherwise- as the main source of fear and grievance.
But there remains considerable ground to cover to transform the PSNI into a policing service which, below the surface, isn’t the same one which was widely regarded by nationalists as a sectarian and political force, alien and hostile to the nationalist community, culture and politics.
A series of stories in the media recently have served as a reminder to many of just how difficult it will be to transform the policing mindset in the north of Ireland. The failure of PSNI officers to deal promptly with a gun-toting thug on the Falls Road last year was back in the news recently when the PSNI Ombudsman found that the officers response was “below the standard expected”- the PSNI response was pathetic; it took 45 minutes to arrive on the scene, and when they did, they failed to leave their vehicle and drove off shortly afterwards.
Then, there was the ‘is there a dead body in your street?’ phone call from a PSNI officer to a naturally startled west Belfast resident recently, which again prompted a public reprimand from higher authorities but also betrayed an, at best, incompetent and, at worse, sectarian mentality from the PSNI officers involved.
The treatment meted out to Ireland’s Olympic Bronze Medallist by PSNI officers in his native north Belfast once again illustrated the animosity that prevails within elements of the PSNI to nationalists, and the latest revelations about the PSNI’s relationship with a certain loyalist business leader from Mid-Ulster have not served to help the process of moving forward.
For me personally, however, it is the persistent failure/unwillingness to deal with the activities of loyalists in the Stoneyford area which continues to serve as a sobering reminder that, whilst uniforms may change and personnel at ground level become more representative of the community, there remains a dark hand at work, permitting officers at one level to operate as a normal, policing organisation committed to tackling criminality and protecting the community, but clearly stepping in to protect others for reasons which we can only speculate, albeit with growing confidence.