THE relationship between the PSNI and the people of Strabane has reached a new low according to a local member of the Derry City and Strabane Policing and Community Safety Partnership (PSCP).
The issue has come to a head this week following a number of letters to the Chronicle which claimed police officers in the town were being ‘heavy-handed’ in their dealings with members of the public.
One letter writer claimed police were deliberately trying to ‘wind people up’, while another said the officers ‘seemed hell-bent on getting a rise out of us’.
Confirming that he has been made aware of a number of complaints about officers in the locality, Patsy McGonagle, who sits on the PCSP, said he has ‘grave concerns’ over the current policing in Strabane.
Mr McGonagle explained, “I have grave concerns about the current community policing model in Strabane which doesn’t appear to be working.
“More and more local people are becoming annoyed with some of the incidents involving the police which are occurring in the town.”
“If people are unhappy with the police I would urge them to come to me. If you feel aggravated and you want something done about it, then I can help you hold the police to account.”
Mr McGonagle said incidences of unacceptable policing, like those raised by the letter writers to the Chronicle, are becoming more common in Strabane.
“I am coming across too many of these scenarios and it is leading to a decline in community relations. Part of the problem is that people are not going through the right avenues to report incidents like this.
“Behaviour like this from local police is not acceptable,” he continued. “We need to question such behaviour and send out the message that the people of Strabane deserve better.”
Mr McGonagle also claims funding cuts have contributed to the deteriorating relationship between police and the general public.
“Four years ago council funding for community wardens was withdrawn, however it remained in Derry. Here in Strabane, the community wardens had a massively positive impact on community relations. The wardens employed were also local people, they knew the people and the area, and that makes a huge difference when it come to community relations. It is definitely something I would like to see reinstated locally,” Mr McGonagle added.
Independent councillor Paul Gallagher also backed the call for community wardens to return to patrolling the streets of Strabane. However he said for the concept to work it is important the wardens are independent from both the Police and the PCSP.
“The loss of community wardens to Strabane was a big blow and I would support the implementation of them back on the ground,” Mr Gallagher explained. “However in order for them to be a success they need to have no affiliation with the PSNI and the PCSP. That is why they were so successful in the past, because they were community led for the community.”
A spokesperson for Derry City and Strabane District Council confirmed it is aware of the issue regarding community warden funding for Strabane and added that the PCSP is currently convening a working group to discuss the matter further.
Responding to the criticism Inspector Alison Ferguson said, “We expect all our officers to behave in a professional manner and to treat every member of the public with courtesy and respect. If anyone has concerns about how they have been treated we would ask that they contact us directly so we can look into the matter. Alternatively, complaints can be made to the office of the Police Ombudsman.”