Outgoing Chief Inspector Jon Burrows as labelled Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon policing district as ‘trailblazers’ on social media.
CI Burrows, who has been based in Lurgan for the past four years, is leaving to take up a role as head of the PSNI’s Discipline Unit.
Over his tenure his bid to break down barriers in certain parts of the district where police had previously been unwelcome has had great success.
He has had a high profile since his arrival, and regards one of his highlights as the PSNI’s ‘improvements around public order’.
“There has been a huge reduction in rioting and public disorder. When I first arrived we had quite a serious riot in Kilwilkie and a gunman came out and went to fire at police.
“There has been a complete transformation of that. I think that is down to two things, engagement and enforcement,” said Chief Inspector Burrows who has previously worked extensively on public order issues.
He said they had set up a public order inquiry team. “We worked to develop the skills of officers in actually investigating public disorder, identifying those responsible and getting them in front of the courts.”
Asked about his work in engaging with the community in areas where public order issues had been rife, he said: “Making arrests and making people amenable creates a deterrent and when you combine that with engagement to try and normalise policing, build relationships and deliver on local needs - I think that builds confidence and trust in the police.”
Chief Inspector Burrows says engagement with the public on the ground and via social media has been key.
PSNI Craigavon, Armagh and Banbridge’s social media presence have the biggest following in Northern Ireland - an achievement CI Burrows is proud of.
“That is 93,000 people following us and that is a hugely powerful medium for us to communicate with the public. In the last week alone we have reached 350,000 people across our three sites.”
He said it was a huge network of people giving police intelligence about a variety of issues including missing people. “We have actually found missing people directly because of putting a picture of them on Facebook.
“From finding the wanted, who are criminals, to finding the missing, we have built up a huge social media profile that allows us to utilise the public to help us keep people safe.”
The Chief Inspector said he felt the use of social media is ‘front and centre’ of policing.
“I think we have been trail-blazers in Craigavon,” said CI Burrows, adding that with 303 officers in ABC area, the 93,000 people who follow the PSNI Craigavon Facebook page ‘are our eyes and ears - and I don’t mean that in any creepy surveillance way - but about crime prevention messages, missing people ...’
CI Burrows said: “I think the humour we’ve used and the engaging style has been inter-cultural. The language we have spoken in the media over the years has been more formal and official.”
He said he is aware that one of the areas which causes deep concern in the community is the drugs issue.
He said police have been pro-active on drugs and he understands that it is a public priority. “We still need more information. We do not get sufficient public information about drugs,” he said, adding that it is down to a mix of fear and culture. “The public has got to know it is safe to do it (give information to police) and they have got to know that we are going to go out and do something with it.
He explained that is why police highlight drug successes and Crimestoppers. “Some people think that Crimestoppers is the police but it is not, it’s an independent charity,” he added.
“Those involved in drug dealing in our district and in particular in Craigavon and Banbridge, bring a huge amount of misery and crime onto our streets. They are the most selfish people you could ever meet and there are huge overlaps between all those crime groups.”
Chief Inspector Burrows has had the spectre of dissident republicans and other paramilitaries pervading his tenure in charge.
“I think we have been extremely proactive,” he said, pointing out how they dealt with the republican colour party in Lurgan two years ago.
“We had 20 arrested, charged and convicted - unmasked if you like. Part of this is down to accountability. If you think you can walk the streets illegally and cover your face there is an accountability issue of unmasking them, naming them.
“Our district is still one where there are tensions around parades and protests and flags and banners and actually, the rule of law applies to everybody. I can’t say to one group they have to put in an 11/1 to walk up the street while I tolerate thugs putting masks on walking through the streets of Lurgan. That will not be tolerated.
“One of my big successes was to work very, very hard tactically and legally to be able to arrest those individuals on the spot and build a case against them and get them convicted. That was the first of its kind in Northern Ireland.
“The wider dissidents - they are public enemy number one because, when you look at what they do, they play into the hands of ordinary criminals.”
He said dissidents often attack police when they are dealing with ordinary crime or they watch police responses and they attack. “They slow down the police response time at times. If you are living somewhere with a higher terrorist risk, we have to take extra measures to make sure our officers are safe. That is appalling that someone would ring to ask for help and police are having to consider their own safety.
“Potentially what the dissidents are actually doing is trying to dissuade us from helping those people as quickly as possible.”
CI Burrows added: “They are losing support. They are desperate but they remain very dangerous. Their intention is to kill cops but they are very reckless as to whoever gets in the way. They may leave a pipe bomb for us but to them it is a risk worth taking that a child picks it up and gets killed. They are happy to take the risk that a child or member of the public gets killed when they are actually attacking cops.”
CI Burrows believes his greatest achievement is the strides the district has made in normalising policing.#
“That has been two fold, around targeted enforcement at those who are breaking the law and defying the rule of law - the rioters, terrorists and the colour parties - that is very targeted, focussed enforcement. Combining that with good engagement, good communication, local problem solving - we build confidence in policing. We have shown that policing is there for the local people.
“We have built that huge following on social media. We are in places in Lurgan and Craigavon that we have never been in before and actually, I am starting to have people come through on work experience that come from those areas wanting to join the police - many of whom have got an interest in policing through our Facebook page.”
He feels that normalising policing and a better relationship with the community has been one of his achievements.
He is keen that his successor will continue ‘to ensure that we do not allow dissident republicans to radicalise our young people and deprive them of a future by dragging them into disorder, into terrorism’.
When asked about his hopes for the district’s future, he said: “I want to see young men and women from Kilwilkie, Drumbeg and Meadowbrook join the police. I want us to be representative.
“I also think we need to keep working on organised crime. We have seen these gangs involved in shootings and arson attacks - they need disrupted and dismantled. They are wicked. If there is one motive and one motive alone for these criminals is pounds, shillings and pence. It is greed. It is profit. It is shocking and they do not care.”