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Police Service of Northern Ireland

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Formed  4 November 2001
Population  1,861,200
Annual budget  £836.7m (FY 2014/2015)
Police Service of Northern Ireland
Preceding agency  Royal Ulster Constabulary
Legal personality  Non government: Police force
Size  5,456 sq mi (14,130 km)

The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) (Irish: Seirbhís Póilíneachta Thuaisceart Éireann, Ulster Scots: Polis Servis o Norlin Airlan) is the police force that serves Northern Ireland. It is the successor to the defunct Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) which, in turn, was the successor to the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) in Northern Ireland.


Although the majority of PSNI officers are still Ulster Protestants, this dominance is not as pronounced as it was in the RUC because of positive discrimination policies. The RUC was an armed police force and played a key role in policing the violent conflict known as the Troubles. As part of the Good Friday Agreement, there was an agreement to introduce a new police force initially based on the body of constables of the RUC. As part of the reform, an Independent Commission on Policing for Northern Ireland (the Patten Commission) was set up, and the RUC was replaced by the PSNI on 4 November 2001. The Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000 named the new police force as the Police Service of Northern Ireland (incorporating the Royal Ulster Constabulary); shortened to Police Service of Northern Ireland for operational purposes.

All major political parties in Northern Ireland now support the PSNI. At first Sinn Féin, which represents about a quarter of Northern Ireland voters, refused to endorse the PSNI until the Patten Commission's recommendations were implemented in full. However, as part of the St Andrews Agreement, Sinn Féin announced its full acceptance of the PSNI in January 2007.


The senior officer in charge of the PSNI is its Chief Constable. The Chief Constable is appointed by the Northern Ireland Policing Board, subject to the approval of the Minister of Justice for Northern Ireland. The Chief Constable of Northern Ireland is the third-highest paid British police officer. The Commissioner and Deputy Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police are respectively the highest-paid and second-highest paid British police officers.

Each district is headed by a Chief Superintendent. Districts are divided into areas, commanded by a Chief Inspector; these in turn are divided into sectors, commanded by Inspectors. In recent years, under new structural reforms, some Chief Inspectors command more than one area as the PSNI strives to make savings.

In 2001 the old police divisions and sub-divisions were replaced with 29 District Command Units (DCUs), broadly coterminous with local council areas. In 2007 the DCUs were replaced by eight districts ('A' to 'H') in anticipation of local government restructuring under the Review of Public Administration (RPA). Responsibility for policing and justice was devolved to the Northern Ireland Assembly on 9 March 2010, although direction and control of the PSNI remains under the Chief Constable.


PSNI officers have full police powers throughout Northern Ireland and the adjacent United Kingdom waters. Other than in mutual aid circumstances they have more limited police powers in the other two legal jurisdictions of the United Kingdom—England and Wales, and Scotland.

Co-operation with Garda Síochána

The Patten Report recommended that a programme of long-term personnel exchanges should be established between the PSNI and the Garda Síochána, the national police force of the Republic of Ireland. This recommendation was enacted in 2002 by an Inter-Governmental Agreement on Policing Cooperation, which set the basis for the exchange of officers between the two services. There are three levels of exchanges:

  • Personnel exchanges, for all ranks, without policing powers and for a term up to one year
  • Secondments: for ranks Sergeant to Chief Superintendent, with policing powers, for up to three years
  • Lateral entry by the permanent transfer of officers for ranks above Inspector and under Assistant Commissioner
  • The protocols for these movements of personnel were signed by both the Chief Constable of the PSNI and the Commissioner of An Garda Síochána on 21 February 2005.


    The PSNI also has an education organisation named 'B safe', created by Dympna Thornton in 2006.


    The PSNI is supervised by the Northern Ireland Policing Board.

    The Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland deals with any complaints regarding the PSNI, and investigates any allegations of misconduct by police officers. The current Police Ombudsman is former Oversight Commissioner Al Hutchinson, who took over from Nuala O'Loan in November 2007. The Oversight Commissioner was appointed to ensure that the Patten recommendations were implemented 'comprehensively and faithfully', and attempted to assure the community that all aspects of the report were being implemented and being seen to be implemented. The Oversight role ended on 31 May 2007, with the final report indicating that of Patten's 175 recommendations, 140 had been completed with a further 16 "substantially completed".

    The PSNI is also internally regulated by its Professional Standards Department (PSD) whose motto is "integrity is not negotiable". PSD can direct local "professional standards champions" (Superintendents at District level) to investigate relatively minor matters, while a "misconduct panel" will consider more serious misconduct issues. Outcomes from misconduct hearings include dismissal, requirement to resign, reduction in rank, monetary fines and cautions.


    The PSNI was initially legally obliged to operate an affirmative action policy of recruiting 50% of its trainee officers from a Catholic background and 50% from a non-Catholic background, as recommended by the Patten Report, in order to address the under-representation of Catholics that had existed for many decades in policing; in 2001 the RUC was almost 92% Protestant. Many unionist politicians said the "50:50" policy was unfair, and when the Bill to set up the PSNI was going through Parliament, Minister of State Adam Ingram stated: "Dominic Grieve referred to positive discrimination and we hold our hands up. Clause 43 refers to discrimination and appointments and there is no point in saying that that is anything other than positive discrimination." However, the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission cited international human rights law to show that special measures to secure minority participation were in accordance with human rights standards and did not in law constitute 'discrimination'.

    By February 2011, 29.7% of the 7,200 officers were from a Catholic background, but among the 2,500 police support staff, where the 50:50 rule operated only for larger recruitment drives, the proportion of Catholics just exceeded 18%. The British Government nevertheless proposed to end the 50:50 measure, and provisions for 'lateral entry' of Catholic officers from other police forces, with effect from the end of March 2011. Following a public consultation the special measures were ended, in respect of police and support staff, in April 2011.

    Deloitte conducted recruitment exercises on behalf of the PSNI, and was the dominant firm in the Consensia Partnership which did so from 2001 to 2009.


    In September 2006 it was confirmed that Assistant Chief Constable Judith Gillespie approved the PSNI policy of using children as informants including in exceptional circumstances to inform on their own family but not their parents. The document added safeguards included having a parent or "appropriate adult" present at meetings between juveniles and their handler. It also stressed a child's welfare should be paramount when considering the controversial tactics and required that any risk had been properly explained to them and a risk assessment completed.


    The colour of the PSNI uniform is green. Pre-1970s RUC uniforms retained a dark green, which was often mistaken as black. A lighter shade of green was introduced following the Hunt reforms of the early 1970s, although Hunt recommended that British blue should be introduced. The Patten report, however, recommended the retention of the green uniform (Recommendation No. 154). The RUC officially described this as 'rifle green'. When the six new versions of the PSNI uniform were introduced, in March 2002, the term 'bottle green' was used for basically the same colour to convey a less militaristic theme.

    The PSNI badge features the St. Patrick's saltire, and six symbols representing different and shared traditions:

  • The Scales of Justice (representing equality and justice)
  • A crown (a traditional symbol of royalty but not the St Edward's Crown worn by or representing the British Sovereign)
  • The harp (a traditional Irish symbol but not the Brian Boru harp used as an official emblem in the Republic)
  • A torch (representing enlightenment and a new beginning)
  • An olive branch (a peace symbol from Ancient Greece)
  • A shamrock (a traditional Irish symbol, used by St Patrick, patron saint of all Ireland, to explain the Christian Trinity)
  • The flag of the PSNI is the badge in the centre of a dark green field. Under the Police Emblems and Flags Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2002 no other flag can be used by the PSNI and it is the only one permitted to be flown on any PSNI building, vehicle, aircraft or vessel.

    Body armour

    PSNI officers routinely wear flak jackets and in recent years have been issued the stab vests worn by most UK police officers and the Gardaí. Beginning in December 2007 flak jackets were required for PSNI officers patrolling in the Greater Belfast & Greater Derry City areas owing to the threat from dissident republicans. In 2009 the PSNI issued an upgraded and redesigned flak jacket to operational officers. While the flak jacket offers a high level of ballistic protection many officers prefer the lighter and more comfortable stab vest. Both are issued to each operational officer and the wearing of body armour generally comes down to personal preference, except in areas of high threat.


    Due to the elevated threat level police personnel face from armed paramilitary groups, unlike the majority of police services in the United Kingdom, the PSNI routinely arms all of its officers with firearms and allows its officers to carry their issue sidearm off-duty.

    Officers are issued the Glock 17 pistol, phasing out the now considered obsolete Ruger Speed-Six revolvers previously issued. Previously long arms were routinely issued: either the Heckler & Koch MP5, Remington 870 shotgun or rifles such as Heckler & Koch G3s, G36Cs or HK33s which replaced Ruger AC-556 select fire rifles. Long arms are still routinely carried in areas of higher threat such as Derry Cityside, North and West Belfast or various border areas.


    The best known PSNI vehicle is the Land Rover Tangi but with the improving security situation these are less likely to be used for everyday patrols and are more likely to be used for crowd control instead. In 2011 it was announced that some of the Tangis were to be replaced, due to the ongoing security threat and the age of the current fleet.This led to the creation of the PANGOLIN - Armoured Public Order Vehicle - designed and built by OVIK Special Vehicles (part of the OVIK Group), 60 Mk1 and 90 Mk2 variants have been delivered and are currently in service. Also a number of Public Order Land Rovers made by Penman are also currently in service.

    Other vehicles include Škoda Octavias, Škoda Superb, Vauxhall Vectras, Vauxhall Astra estates, Ford Mondeos, Volkswagen Passat Estates, Audi A6, Audi A4. Vans include Volkswagen Transporter, Volkswagen Crafter and Mercedes Sprinter. 4X4 vehicles include Mitsubishi Shoguns, Range Rovers, Land Rover Discovery 4s and a small number of Honda quad bikes. Higher spec cars include Volkswagen Golf R32s, Vauxhall Vectra VXRs, Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution and Vauxhall Insignia VXRs. Many older armoured vehicles are still in use. The PSNI have a fleet of Honda and BMW R 1200 RT motorbikes. The PSNI also have a fleet of 242 bicycles which are used for city centres and walkway patrols.

    Air support

    The PSNI have one of the largest Air support units within the United Kingdom. In 2014 the Air Support Unit responded to over 4,000 callouts, 12 were Casualty evacuations and participated in over 250 missing people searches. All aircraft are used for investigations, anti-crime operations, traffic management, search and rescue, public order situations, crime reduction initiatives and tackling terrorism.


    In May 2005 the PSNI took delivery of its first helicopter, a Eurocopter EC 135, registration G-PSNI and callsign Police 441. In 2010 the PSNI took delivery of its second aircraft, a Eurocopter EC 145 registration G-PSNO and callsign Police 442 at a cost of £7 million. In July 2013 a third helicopter entered service, Eurocopter EC 145, registration G-PSNR and callsign Police 443.

    Fixed wing aircraft

    The PSNI also has access to two fixed wing aircraft both of which are Britten-Norman Islanders. The first was delivered in 1991 which is still in service registration G-BSWR and callsign Scout 1. In 2010 a second fixed wing aircraft registration G-CGTC, callsign Scout 2 entered service.

    Other items

    Other items of equipment include Hiatt Speedcuffs, CS (irritant) Spray, Monadnock autolock batons with power safety tip and Hindi cap, a first aid pouch, a TETRA radio (Motorola MTH800) and a torch with traffic wand, Limb Restraints, finally the PSNI plan to distribute 2100 BlackBerry devices to officers by the end of March 2011 and by March 2012 they plan to distribute an additional 2000 devices.


    The service's headquarters are located in Knock, an area in east Belfast.

    List of Chief Constables

    To date this position has been held, substantively or temporarily, by six people:


  • Chief Constable
  • Deputy Chief Constable
  • Assistant Chief Constable
  • Chief Superintendent
  • Superintendent
  • Chief Inspector
  • Inspector
  • Sergeant
  • Constable
  • Reserve Constable (Part Time)
  • Reserve Constable (Full Time) (2001–2011)
  • The ranks and their insignia correspond to those of British police services, with a few modifications. Sergeants' chevrons are worn point-up as is done in the United States, rather than point-down as is done in other police and military services of the United Kingdom. Sergeants do not wear numbers as their counterparts do in other UK police services. The six-pointed star & saltire device from the PSNI badge is used in place of the Crown in the insignia of superintendents, chief superintendents and the chief constable. The rank insignia of the chief constable, unlike those in other parts of the UK, are similar to those of the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis and the Commissioner of the City of London Police.


    Police Service of Northern Ireland Wikipedia

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