Contradictions and Concentration
I'm finding it increasing difficult to write about how relations with the police in Northern Ireland should improve with a helicopter hovering loudly above my neighborhood. Is it the loud noise that's making it difficult to concentrate, or the nagging feeling of futility and frustration with such a project?
The fact of the matter is that I personally doubt (though I have no solid evidence for this) that relationships between the PSNI and the community have been more fraught than they are now, since the Troubles. I think there's an inherent contradiction in a crackdown on dissidents (which appears to be a blunt rather than a sharp instrument) and trying to make people believe that the police of now are not the police of old.
For example, take Section 44. This stop and search power was recently found unlawful by the European Court in Gillan and Quinton v United Kingdom.And yet, the Chief Constable was recently defending the stop and search powers, saying that they were an important tool to be used against dissident republicans. According to the NI Policing Board, use of Section 44 has tripled in the last year.This kind of invasive tactic, which has already been declared illegal by the European Court, can only serve to alienate people and run completely contradictory to improving relationships with the police – a goal that I think is extremely important and necessary.
But as with anything, it's a two-way street – people in communities that have been traditionally hostile to the police are reaching out, and engaging with an organization in ways that would not have been imaginable even 10 years ago. Although that said, there are still people and communities that refuse to engage.There are those that are convinced the police have not and cannot change. In some ways I think they're being obstinate, and in other ways, I can see where they're coming from. There's still a lot of distrust, and, as mentioned above, tactics that harken back to the police as they used to be. It's a difficult climate to be told that you have to move on in.
But the police have to reach out. They have to ditch the draconian tactics of the Troubles, including stop and search measures like Section 44 – they get them nowhere with the public and create nothing but alienation. Both groups must take a long hard look at their attitudes, and more importantly, their actions. The public needs to be willing to engage and to reconsider their prejudices, but the police need to create the climate in which that is possible. I really want to believe that things can improve. But then, I look out the window and see the helicopter, and I feel like it's still a long way away.
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