Why the secrecy over police move?

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Policing in Portadown is in a state of uncertainty, with £38m having to come out of the divisional budget and with the futile search for a suitable site to establish an inquiry office in town. The barrack of a building in Edward Street is totally unsuitable.

Local MP David Simpson has met with Craigavon Area Commander Chief Inspector Paul Reid to voice his misgivings over the new order for community policing, with Lurgan the main centre and Portadown having to make do with “a single patrol car to serve a population of 22,000”.

Mr Simpson is unimpressed by the chief’s reply that the new system “will build up an enhanced knowledge of the areas they serve, through community representatives, clergy, school principals and other key figures”. So he’s lining up a meeting with Chief Constable George Hamilton.

The MP contends that the former, more concentrated, community policing service, where Portadown had its own bespoke service, already had that “enhanced system”, and that it will be replaced by a lesser service with so many £millions extracted from the budget. Of course, most of it is down to the mismanagement of the disparate MLAs at Stormont, in whom public confidence is at an all-time low. Not only in policing, but in virtually every Department within the Assembly.

Still, it’s difficult to have confidence in a local police service where lip service has been paid to the provision of an inquiry office in the town centre for the best part of 20 years. Several venues have been mentioned to the Portadown Times, with vacant town centre premises pin-pointed back to RUC days.

At least the RUC kept us informed. When we found out six months ago that the health centre was the favoured venue – and this week that it isn’t – the PSNI reply each time was, “We can’t confirm or deny that, but simply say that police are continuing to look at options.”

At least they had the courtesy to reply. We rang the health trust at 10.51am on Wednesday to ask if the move had been scuppered. By close of play, they hadn’t responded. And to think that the police and health care services are funded by the public purse... Why the secrecy?

Meanwhile, the business people and residents of Edward Street are totally fed up that their street is “dead” – isolated from the main town by the unnecessary security barriers, thought to be the only ones in Northern Ireland in the aftermath of the Troubles.

Brian Walker, chairman of the promotional group Portadown 2000 and Edward Street solicitor, has complained relentlessly that the time is long past for something to be done about the barriers and a suitable inquiry office for the PSNI.

Anyone who has frequented the old police station knows that the honeycomb of rooms and corridors never constituted a suitable building for what was once a major police HQ, but now accommodates a few officers and has a much-diminished role.

True, policing has moved on, but one must query why that monstrosity still exists. David Simpson certainly has a point.