Police Service of Northern Ireland

Police Service of Northern Ireland
Police Service of Northern Ireland
Abbreviation PSNI
Img psnibadge.png
Badge of the Police Service of Northern Ireland.
Agency overview
Formed 4 November 2001
Preceding agency Royal Ulster Constabulary
Legal personality Governmental: Government agency
Jurisdictional structure
Police Service of Northern Ireland area
Size 13,843 km²
Population Approx 1.7 million
Governing body Northern Ireland Assembly
Constituting instrument Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000
General nature
Operational structure
Overviewed by Northern Ireland Policing Board
Headquarters Knock, Belfast
Officers 7,200
Support staffs 2,500
Elected officer responsible David Ford, Minister of Justice
Agency executive Matt Baggott, Chief Constable
Regions 8
Stations 79 [1]
Police boats Yes
Planes 3 helicopters, 1 fixed wing aircraft
Dogs 28 [2]

The Police Service of Northern Ireland (Irish: Seirbhís Póilíneachta Thuaisceart Éireann,[3] Ulster Scots: Polis Servis o Norlin Airlan)[4] is the police force that serves Northern Ireland. It is the successor to the Royal Ulster Constabulary which,[5] in turn, was the successor to the Royal Irish Constabulary in Northern Ireland.

The RUC was renamed on 4 November 2001 as a result of a ten year reform plan for policing set up under the Belfast Agreement. This agreement required the creation of an Independent Commission on Policing for Northern Ireland, which became known as the Patten Commission after its chairman, Chris Patten. He originally proposed the name Northern Ireland Police Service; however the abbreviation NIPS was thought inappropriate for a variety of reasons[citation needed]. The final decision included in the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000 was to rename the force to the Police Service of Northern Ireland (incorporating the Royal Ulster Constabulary), to be shortened to the Police Service of Northern Ireland for operational purposes.[6][7]

All major political parties in Northern Ireland, nationalist and unionist support the PSNI. At first the political party Sinn Féin, which represents about a quarter of Northern Ireland voters, had refused to endorse the PSNI until Patten's recommendations were implemented in full. However, as part of the St Andrews Agreement Sinn Féin announced its full acceptance of the Police Service of Northern Ireland at a special Ard Fheis on the issue of policing on 28 January 2007.[8]

The other major nationalist party in the region, the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP), has joined the Northern Ireland Policing Board and says that it is satisfied that the Patten recommendations are being implemented. In the summer of 2005, the SDLP's Alex Attwood estimated that 80% of Patten's recommendations had been implemented.

In September 2005 the PSNI established the Historical Enquiries Team to investigate the 3,269 unsolved murders committed during the Troubles.



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 these 29 Districts were replaced by 8 Districts ('A' through 'H') in anticipation of local government restructuring under the Review of Public Administration (RPA). These council boundaries have not been finalised by the Northern Ireland Assembly, however, and may change. Each district is headed by a Chief Superintendent. Districts are divided into areas, commanded by a Chief Inspector and they 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. Policing and Justice was passed to the Northern Ireland Assembly with the devolution of Policing and Justice on 9 March 2010, although direction and control of the PSNI remains under the Chief Constable.


Police Officers of the PSNI 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 or Scotland.

Cooperation 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 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 officer 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 this movements of personnel were signed by both the Chief Constable of the PSNI and the Commissioner of An Garda Síochána on 21 February 2005.[9]


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 is 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".[10]

The PSNI is also internally regulated by "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 range from 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 the Catholic/Nationalist community that has existed for many decades in policing; in 2001 the RUC was drawn almost 92% from the Protestant/Unionist community. While many Unionist politicians perceived "50:50" as unfair, the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission maintained that special measures to secure minority participation were in accordance with international human rights standards and did not in law constitute 'discrimination'.[11] By February 2011, 29.7% of the 7,200 officers were from the Catholic community, but among the 2,500 police support staff, where the 50:50 rule operates only for larger recruitment drives, the proportion of Catholics just exceeded 18%.[12] 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 end-March 2011.[13] Following a public consultation the special measures were ended, in respect of police and support staff, in April 2011. Deloitte conducts 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.[14]


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).[15] 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 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.[16]


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. Flak jackets were routinely worn by officers in Ballymena in late 2004,[17] and in December 2007 for PSNI officers patrolling in the Greater Belfast & Greater Derry City areas owing to the threat from dissident republicans.[18] 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.


Unlike the majority of police forces in the United Kingdom, the PSNI is the only territorial police force that routinely arms all of its officers.[19] 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, 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 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. Other vehicles include MG ZTs, Škoda Octavias, Škoda Superb, Vauxhall Vectras, Ford Mondeos, Volkswagen Passat Estates, Volkswagen Transporter and Volkswagen Crafter. 4X4 vehicles include Mitsubishi Shoguns , Range Rovers and have recently taken delivery of Land Rover Discovery 4. 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, but newer cars are more likely to be non-armoured. 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.[20]

Air support

In May 2005 the PSNI took delivery of its first helicopter, a Eurocopter EC 135, registration G-PSNI and callsign Police 41. The PSNI (and the RUC) relied heavily on British Army helicopter support during the Troubles and into the 21st century. A new Eurocopter EC 145 registration G-PSNO and callsign Police 42 was acquired in 2010 at a cost of £7 million. The PSNI also hire a third helicopter out from Veritair, a Eurocopter BK117, registration G-DCPA and callsign Police 43. Finally the PSNI have a fixed wing aircraft , a Britten-Norman Islander, registration G-BSWR and callsign Scout 1 this aircraft is due to be replaced in 2011 by another Britten-Norman Islander[21]. All aircraft are used for investigations, anti-crime operations, traffic management, search and rescue, public order situations, crime reduction initiatives and tackling terrorism.

Other Items

Other items of equipment include Hiatts Speedcuffs, CS (irritant) Spray, extendible batons, a first aid pouch, an encrypted radio 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.[22]


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

Chief Constables

Saintfield Police station
Dungiven Police station

The senior officer in charge of the PSNI is its Chief Constable. To date this position has been held, substantively or temporarily, by five people:

  • Chief Constable Sir Ronnie Flanagan OBE, from the formation of the PSNI. Flanagan was previously the Chief Constable of the RUC.
  • Acting Chief Constable Colin Cramphorn, from 1 April 2002. Cramphorn was formerly Flanagan's deputy, and with Flanagan's resignation Cramphorn acted as Chief Constable while the Policing Board sought a permanent replacement. Cramphorn is believed to have turned down the post of Chief Constable due to the political expectations that he was required to fulfil, but which he apparently believed were inappropriate at that time.
  • Chief Constable Sir Hugh Orde OBE, from 29 May 2002 until August 2009. Cramphorn continued as Orde's deputy until September 2002, when he was appointed Chief Constable of West Yorkshire Police.
  • Deputy Chief Constable Judith Gillespie, acting from August 2009 until 22 September 2009.
  • Chief Constable Matt Baggott CBE, QPM, from 22 September 2009.

The Chief Constable of Northern Ireland is the third highest paid British police officer, after the Commissioner and Deputy Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police. [2]


  • Chief Constable
  • Deputy Chief Constable
  • Assistant Chief Constable
  • Chief Superintendent
  • Superintendent
  • Chief Inspector
  • Inspector
  • Sergeant
  • Constable

See also

  • Aerial roof markings
  • Policing in the United Kingdom
  • List of Government departments and agencies in Northern Ireland
  • An Garda Síochána - the police service in the Republic of Ireland


Weitzer, Ronald. 1995. Policing Under Fire: Ethnic Conflict and Police-Community Relations in Northern Ireland (Albany, New York: State University of New York Press).

Weitzer, Ronald. 1996. "Police Reform in Northern Ireland", Police Studies, v.19, no.2. pages:27-43.

Weitzer, Ronald. 1992. "Northern Ireland's Police Liaison Committees", Policing and Society, vol.2, no.3, pages 233-243.


  1. ^ Stations. Police Service of Northern Ireland. Retrieved on 2009-09-10.
  2. ^ [1]. Police Service of Northern Ireland. Retrieved on 2011-07-19.
  3. ^ "Faisnéis as Gaeilge faoi Sheirbhís Póilíneachta Thuaisceart Éireann" (in Irish). Police Service of Northern Ireland. http://www.psni.police.uk/irish.pdf. Retrieved 2009-03-02. 
  4. ^ "Wittins anent the Polis Service o Norlin Airlan in the Ulster Scots" (in Ulster Scots). Police Service of Northern Ireland. http://www.psni.police.uk/ulster_scots.pdf. Retrieved 2009-03-02. 
  5. ^ "The RUC: Lauded and condemned". BBC News (bbc.co.uk). 31 October 2001. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/in_depth/uk/2000/ruc_reform/780311.stm. Retrieved 2007-06-05. "Condemned by republicans, nationalists and human rights groups for embodying sectarianism and lauded by security forces as one of the most professional police operations in the world, the Royal Ulster Constabulary is one of the most controversial police forces in the UK." 
  6. ^ s.1, Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000
  7. ^ Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000 (c. 32)
  8. ^ "SF delegates vote to support policing". RTÉ News (rte.ie). 28 January 2007. http://www.rte.ie/news/2007/0128/northpolitics.html. Retrieved 2007-06-05. "The Sinn Féin decision in favour of supporting policing in Northern Ireland for the first time ever has been welcomed in Dublin, London and Belfast." 
  9. ^ Freedom of Information Request Number F-2008-05327. Lateral Entry into PSNI
  10. ^ Office of the Oversight Commissioner
  11. ^ Human Rights Commission paper on 50:50 recruitment, January 2010
  12. ^ Workforce composition data from PSNI website
  13. ^ Northern Ireland Office consultation paper on 50:50 recruitment, November 2010
  14. ^ "PSNI allowed to use child informers". UTV News (u.tv). 1 September 2006. http://u.tv/newsroom/indepth.asp?pt=n&id=76432. Retrieved 2007-06-05. "The Police Service of Northern Ireland policy, 'Children as Covert Human Intelligence Sources' was approved by Assistant Chief Constable Judith Gillespie in February 2005 as part of its child protection policy. In June 2009, Judith Gillespie was promoted to the rank of Deputy Chief Constable, the high rank obtained by a female." 
  15. ^ The Patten Report on Policing Summary of Recommendations
  16. ^ Police Emblems and Flags Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2002 Statutory Rule 2002 No. 23
  17. ^ . 
  18. ^ McDonald, Henry (13 December 2007). "Belfast police forced back into flak jackets". The Guardian (London). http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2007/dec/13/northernireland.henrymcdonald. Retrieved 2009-03-10. 
  19. ^ "Northern Ireland". Encarta. msn. http://encarta.msn.com/encnet/refpages/RefArticle.aspx?refid=761571415&pn=6. Retrieved 2007-06-05. "Unlike police forces in the rest of the United Kingdom, the PSNI is an armed force." 
  20. ^ http://www.psni.police.uk/use_of_bicycles_by_psni.pdf
  21. ^ http://www.ukemergencyaviation.co.uk/policehelicopternz.htm
  22. ^ http://www.psni.police.uk/blackberry_mobile_phones.pdf

External links

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