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Councillors clash over community policing

Independent councillor Gary Donnelly believes community policing costs ratepayers too much money and should be scrapped

Councillors clash over community policing

Local councillors have clashed over the PSNI after it was suggested that a community policing body should be scrapped due to growing costs.

Comments were exchanged between Independent Councillor Gary Donnelly and DUP Alderman Maurice Devenney at a meeting of Derry City and Strabane District Council’s (DCSDC) Health and Community committee.

Members of the committee were made aware of the NI Housing Executive Community Safety Strategy 2020-2023 ‘Working Together for Safer Communities’ consultation.

Approval was sought for the Policing and Community Safety Partnership (PCSP) manager to prepare a response to this consultation.

Council was notified on December 19 of last year that the 12-week consultation would be open until March 13, 2020.

The strategy outlines the key achievements of the Housing Executive over the lifetime of the previous strategy ‘Safer Together’, to help tackle anti-social behaviour and alleviate the fear of crime in local communities.

It sets out what will be done over the next three years to continue this work and recognises that it may need to re-focus its priorities in response to emerging or changing issues.

A council officer recommended that members note the report and approve that Derry & Strabane PCSP will be responding to the consultation and the PCSP Manager would also respond on behalf of DCSDC.

Sinn Féin Councillor Aileen Mellon said she was happy to propose but queried whether changes from an anti-social behaviour order (ASBO) to a criminal behaviour order (CBO) in Britain would have any affect in NI.

She asked council officials if community safety forums and ASB forums would remain and said she doesn’t like the anti-social label as what is deemed anti-social differs from one person to the next.

Independent Councillor for the Moor area, Gary Donnelly, said he had proposed getting rid of the PCSP at last week’s setting of the rates council meeting.

PCSP was set-up with the aim to make communities safer by focussing on the policing and community safety issues that matter most in each local council area.

‘Vanity project’

However, Cllr Donnelly believes it is ineffective and doesn’t agree with a hike in funding for the body.  Since he was elected in 2014, funding for the PCSP has increased from around £60k to £220k in 2019/20.  While funding for community safety wardens, who operate alongside the PCSP, has risen from £168k in 2015/16 to £177k - or a combined total of £397k

“At this stage my views on the PCSP are known, I have a great relationship with the NIHE, it’s a great body.  But the PCSP is part of a vanity project to promote the police service.  Just look at the Creggan and Brandywell areas.

“I want to put on record that I’m disassociating myself from it.”

DUP Alderman Maurice Devenney said that if Cllr Donnelly contacted the PCSP he would discover the work it has done in the Moor area.  “They deliver a really good service,” he added.

He suggested that Cllr Donnelly’s issue lies with the PSNI and not the PCSP, and as a member of the PCSP, assured the Moor Cllr that “the police service is held to account for all serious issues, including anti-social behaviour.”

In response, Cllr Donnelly agreed that he was “100% correct” in his assertion that his issue lay with the PSNI and he disagreed with it getting £400,000 from ratepayers “just to build confidence in the PSNI.”

“Nobody in this room can say that is what they are doing, there’s a party in here which supports them but one of its MLAs said ‘confidence is at rock bottom’ last year,” he said, in reference to comments made by former Sinn Féin MLA Raymond McCartney.

He continued: “If you want, you can come to Creggan and the Bogside where there are regular raids and false allegations.  You are right, my problem is the PSNI.”

The recommendation was backed by a majority of councillors and a response will be brought back before the committee.

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