By Daniel Hill.
THIS month marks the 20th anniversary of the formation of the Police Service of Northern Ireland.
The service, which was established in November of 2001 as the successor of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, was founded in the wake of both the Good Friday agreement and the implementation of the recommendations of the Patten report.
Alongside the adoption of a new policing philosophy which placed the concepts of upholding human rights and community policing as fundamental cornerstones of the new police force that would serve a post troubles Northern Ireland, was the introduction of a new 50:50 recruitment policy.
This policy aimed to have one new recruit from a perceived Roman Catholic Background for every new recruit from a non- Catholic background.
It was hoped that this recruitment policy would serve to address the chronic underrepresentation of police officers from a perceived Catholic background that, historically never comprised more than eight percent of all of the RUC’s full-time constables since the formation of the force in 1922.
While it could be argued that the policy of 50:50 recruitment was initially successful in bolstering the number of new officers from a perceived Roman Catholic background in the service, with the PSNI noting a fourfold increase in the amount of actively serving officers in the period from 2001-2011, the overall goal of the policy to have 50 percent of all serving officers be from a Catholic background still has not been attained twenty years later. Currently the number of full-time constables in the PSNI from a perceived Roman Catholic background stands at just under a third of the organisations officers, with the policy of 50:50 recruitment having been ended in 2011 because it was argued that it resulted in the unfair discrimination of more promising candidates from a non-Catholic background.
In light of both this fact, and the fact that the organisation has just finished it 2021 recruitment drive in the month in which it marks its twentieth anniversary, we here in the Newry Democrat invited an officer currently serving in the Newry, Mourne and Down policing district from a perceived Roman Catholic Background to come forward and relate their experience of what it is like to have been recruited into the PSNI and now actively serve their community as a police officer.
Although the officer in question was more than happy to answer all of the queries that were put towards them, owing to another factor which has also been sighted as a reason as to why the number of new recruits into the PSNI from a perceived Roman Catholic back ground has begun to stagnate , that being the elevated security risk of being a police officer in Northern Ireland , it was decided that that the officer in question should remain anonymous for their own safety.
The story of this individual's career as a PSNI officer begins through, at the age of 16, having received the inspiration to join the organisation from their father, citing the fact that it was “witnessing the contributions” that their own father made to the organisation that encouraged them to become a police officer.
“I have been with the police since April 2017, so approximately four and a half years. I always aspired to join the organisation since I was 16 years old and witnessed the contributions my father had made to the organisation over the years. I knew it was the career for me. I really wanted to help people and have a positive impact on the community I was living in.
“I attended Garnerville, that is the police training college between April 2017 and October 2017. I stayed in the college for the duration of my time as a student officer which I enjoyed as it created a wonderful comradeship between me and my fellow student officers as we went through the programme together. The training was very varied between classroom learning, physical education, role plays and firearms training. At no time now or ever have I felt that I was treated any differently in the police due to my Catholic background.
Although the training that this individual received in Garnerville was extensive, imparting the aspiring officer with all of the skills and abilities needed to effectively carry out their duties as a full-time police constable serving the community, the officer does state that after graduation from the training academy “the first three years of (their) career was a bit of a whirlwind.”
“The first three years of my career were a bit of a whirlwind. Every day was different and it did take a bit of an adjustment period to get the hang of things as it is one thing role-playing a scenario in a training environment to then going out and applying what you’ve learnt in reality.
“Luckily the team I joined had a wealth of knowledge and my new colleagues went above and beyond to guide me and give me the confidence to carry out my role to the best of my abilities.”
It was through the application of what this young officer had learned both in their training at Garnerville and throughout their probationary period that enabled them one night to save the life of someone who was in the depths of despair.
“One of the main stories from my first few years within the police that has stuck with me is one night in particular where I had received a call about a male standing on the wrong side of the barricades on a bridge on the A1 carriageway.
When I arrived, he was threatening to jump, and refused to speak with any of my colleagues but would happily speak to me.
“I began building a rapport with him whilst we waited for further assistance to arrive. After a few hours, I eventually convinced him to come back on the right side of the barrier but a few minutes later he attempted to jump off the bridge.
“Both my colleague and myself were able to get a hold of him just in the nick of time to stop him from getting over the barrier and consequently saved his life. It was a very intense experience but I was grateful to have been able to help and it is one moment that I remember being extremely proud to be a police officer.”
Although the officer in question did acknowledge the fact that the threat posed to PSNI constables serving their communities in Northern Ireland is “severe and has been severe since 2009 .” this should not act as deterrent for anyone considering a career in policing in Northern Ireland, citing the fact the rapport between the police and the community in Newry/ south Armagh has” improved over the recent years.”
“I think that the rapport between the community and our officers has improved over the recent years. I have had the opportunity in my probation to work with one of our local Neighbourhood Policing Teams and was able to experience first-hand the work they do to engage and build relationships with the communities we work in.
Now having finished their probationary period the officer in question is a prime candidate to query in regards the qualities that are an absolute necessity to be a member of the PSNI, highlighting the fact that “ good communication skills are an absolute must for a good police officer.”
“Good communication skills are an absolute must for a good police officer. Being able to speak with people effectively makes our jobs a lot easier and also increases community confidence in policing as they know we are listening to their concerns and explaining what we are going do too about them.
“Another quality that in my opinion you cannot do without is perseverance. You may not be the best at every aspect of the job when you first start out, but if you persevere at the areas you need to work on you will succeed in this career.”
“I would advise anyone considering applying to join the Police Service to go for it. It is an extremely rewarding and exciting career and no two days are the same. It is not without its challenges and some days you will be tested but this is nothing compared to the feeling of having a positive impact on your community and providing reassurance and support to those who need us most. If you are looking for a career where you will go home every day feeling fulfilled and like you have done your bit for your community - this is the job for you.
“We are committed to being representative of the communities, we serve and would encourage anyone who is interested in a career in policing to log onto www.joinpsni.co.uk to find out more details.”