In the last 18 months I have been deployed to assist other forces with policing events or disorder, from the London Riots, the Olympic Torch relay and demonstrations and protests. These deployments, known as mutual aid, allow forces to resource incidents that would place undue stress on their own resources.
During the last few days, I have seen comment and discussion on Twitter and Facebook about the disorder in Belfast, with people asking why we mainland officers aren’t being deployed to assist and colleagues volunteering to go. In addition, mention has been made about mutual aid deployments for G8 in Northern Ireland this year and postulating that this is in some way different.
Mutual Aid to the PSNI is becoming more of an issue, I believe that there have been previous requests which haven’t been filled due to the unique policing environment. There is however pressure from both sides, the PSNI looking for more resources and the Government wishing to portray normality in Northern Ireland.
Prior to deploying officers from the mainland to support the PSNI the following would need to be resolved
1. Start with the easy one, public order officers on the mainland wear blue coveralls and helmets while our PSNI colleagues wear black. If officers wore different colours, it leads to the possibility of officers being singled out for attack due to being a different, non PSNI force. While it is easy to issue new kit, neither forces or manufacturers hold large stocks of helmets due to shelf life and the lead time for manufacture would be measured in months for large orders.
2. There are big differences in tactics between the PSNI and mainland forces which have developed due to the unique disorder faced by the PSNI. This uses armoured Landrovers to take and hold ground. Some mainland forces have access to armoured Landrovers or Jenkels suitable for public order deployments, but not sufficient to provide mutual aid back to the PSNI. Would it be possible and safe to deploy mainland public order carriers to the PSNI? I would argue that the lack of manoeuvrability and the lack of protection would make mainland carriers vulnerable if deployed to PSNI.
3. The biggie- officers of the PSNI carry a personal issue firearm for protection all the time. If mainland officers were deployed would they be issued with a personal protection weapon? If the risk to local officers is so great, does this not transfer to officers assisting? If they are not issued a firearm, how is the risk mitigated? By confinement to barracks?
I have also seen the suggestion that the army should be deployed to assist, while I try and avoid politics in my blogs, I am a great fan of learning the lessons of history, the last time the army was deployed to Belfast in a dispute over flying a flag they stayed for a number of years.