Matt Baggott to step down as NI chief constable

Matt Baggott has been Northern Ireland's chief constable for five years

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Northern Ireland's Chief Constable Matt Baggott has announced his decision to retire from the post.

He took up the job as head of the Police Service of Northern Ireland in August 2009 and his contract ends in September 2014.

Mr Baggott, who has been a police officer for 37 years, could have sought a two-year extension.

He said it had been "a real privilege to lead the PSNI through the immense changes of the past few years".

Mr Baggott added: "I am deeply proud of the courage and commitment of my colleagues and the enormous progress they have made on behalf of everyone.

Matt Baggott's career

  • 1978 - joined Metropolitan Police
  • 1998 - West Midlands Police, assistant chief constable
  • 2001 - West Midlands Police, deputy chief constable
  • 2002 - Leicestershire Constabulary, chief constable
  • 2004-2007 - Association of Chief Police Officers, vice president
  • 2009 - Police Service of Northern Ireland, chief constable

"In my remaining months as chief, my priorities will be to ensure the PSNI has the resources to deal effectively with the many challenges ahead, and that our very personal, professional and protective service goes from strength to strength."

BBC Northern Ireland home affairs correspondent Vincent Kearney said one of his successes during his time as PSNI chief constable, was securing an additional £0.25bn from the Treasury and Northern Ireland Office to deal with the increased security threat.

Another highlight was overseeing what was described as the safest G8 summit ever held, a policing operation praised by protesters and US President Barack Obama.

He said Mr Baggott had "invested heavily" in increasing the public order policing capability with 600 extra officers on the streets.

Vincent Kearney looks at the contenders to replace Matt Baggott

Mr Baggott also forged ahead with streamlining the justice system.

During his time as chief constable, more than 600 people were charged for public order offences as a result of flag-related protests.

The appointment of a new chief constable is made by the Northern Ireland Policing Board and is subject to the approval of Justice Minister David Ford.

Higher dissident threat

Mr Baggott found himself the subject of constant scrutiny from the moment he took office.

The threat posed by dissident republicans was higher than he had anticipated and made it impossible to introduce a softer policing profile with more officers on the beat.

But Mr Baggott found himself heavily criticised by unionists and nationalists over the way the PSNI dealt with flag protests and parades.

The issue of how the police investigate the past united some of those opponents.

Community policing

Policing Board chair Anne Connolly paid tribute to Mr Baggott's leadership.

Analysis

A shy and private man, the chief constable is a committed Christian who spent many of his weekends at religious events. But he was viewed by some as aloof and out of touch with his officers on the ground.

He could have asked the Policing Board for a two-year extension to his contract - but didn't.

I'm told that back in October some board members even discussed the possibility of a motion of no confidence in his leadership.

That never materialised, so it's not clear whether a majority of board members would have backed such a motion.

A range of sources have told me they believe Matt Baggott saw the writing on the wall.

My understanding is that he took soundings and realised he may not have been able to secure enough support if he had requested an extension to his contract.

By opting to announce his retirement, he has avoided a damaging public debate and rejection by the board.

"The chief constable of the PSNI is undoubtedly one of the most demanding jobs in policing and, during his tenure, Matt has dealt with some of the most challenging issues in ensuring the safety and security of our community," she said.

"A strong advocate for community policing, Matt has worked to make sure his officers and staff deliver the best possible service to the community and build on the considerable policing change programme here."

Democratic Unionist Party board member Jonathan Craig said Mr Baggott had worked during challenging times.

"He carried out his duties with sincerity and warmth and whilst we did not always agree with some of the decisions he made, I and my colleagues always found him willing to listen and take our views on board," he said.

SDLP Policing Board Member Dolores Kelly MLA commended Mr Baggott, but said it would be "wrong to suggest that his tenure has not been without disappointment".

"The slow, at times timid, response to the street protests which brought our towns and cities to a standstill in recent years dealt significant damage to community confidence in the police," she said.

Ulster Unionist Ross Hussey said Mr Baggott "did a very good job in very difficult circumstances".

"At the time, he was the right person for the job - unfortunately times changed for the worse and we had police officers being killed, threatened and injured," he said.

Pat Sheehan of Sinn Féin said: "We certainly had some disagreements with Matt over the past few years, but he came to the job with a background in community policing which is something we would have majored on heavily."

The current deputy chief constable Judith Gillespie is also due to leave her post in March.

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