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20 February 2015
Citizenship 2000

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Programme 4 - Policing
 
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A group of young people discuss their experiences of policing and their aspirations for the future. The programme also airs the differing views of adult commentators on policing and compares changes in South Africa's policing with those proposed for Northern Ireland.

In this important time for Northern Ireland, the police service, like many of the state's institutions and bodies, is being re-assessed. Because of the symbolic importance of policing in Northern Ireland, this discussion can be emotive and painful. The programme attempts to be sensitive to the feelings of all interested parties while not avoiding the core issues.

The programme opens with a quick look at the history of uniformed policing. The role and expectations of policing have increased greatly since the industrial revolution.

We are then introduced to the experience of policing the divided society of Northern Ireland. The deep political and religious divisions associated with the very nature of the state have caused many problems for the Royal Ulster Constabulary - almost 10% of the people who died during "The Troubles" were RUC officers.

With the context set we meet a discussion group from the Children’s Law Centre in Belfast. Members come from all over Northern Ireland and from different political, social and religious backgrounds. Many have been directly affected by incidents during the troubles and have experienced policing during these incidents.

The group’s open and reasoned discussion on policing forms the core of the programme. We periodically leave the discussion to look at examples of policing and listen to the thoughts of various contributors.

During the discussion we hear comments and dialogue on attitudes towards the police in Northern Ireland, both individual and community perceptions. The relatively small input young people made to the Patten Commission on Policing is commented upon and communication between the Police and youth in general is examined.

The role of women in modern police services is also discussed, as is the global trend to put Human Rights - both of victims and alleged offenders - at the heart of policing.

The programme has two main case studies, both Police Sergeants. Stephen Jones runs the Laganside Neighbourhood Policing Unit in Belfast. He has recently won the Community Police Officer of the Year Award, beating candidates from 39 other forces. He describes his 20-year career and the particular dangers and difficulties he faced. He explains that community policing has been made very difficult because of violent incidents, especially where "Public Order Policing" was required. However Sergeant Jones welcomes the relative peace and political progress made to date.

Laurence Ndaba tells us of his public order police unit in Durban, and of policing in South Africa in general. Policing there has been going through a difficult process of change since the introduction of democracy in 1994. The main problems for the police are rising crime rates, low pay and morale, a violent police culture and under-representation of non-white people. Under these circumstances changing to a non-aggressive, human rights-based police service is very difficult.

The programme concludes with the hopes and aspirations regarding policing of the main adult contributors and of three young people from the Children’s Law Centre group. The programme offers no conclusions but a range of views which can be discussed after viewing.
 
Key Issues
  • Young people from different backgrounds were able, in the programme to share experiences and opinions in a peaceful and tolerant way. That process in itself is valuable.
  • Policing in a society which is divided, or which is not agreed, can be very difficult and attitudes towards the police can be as divided as those towards the society itself.
  • It is very important to feel that we can safely express our opinions, whatever they may be, as long as they don’t hurt others.
Background
 
Policing in Northern Ireland has a long history of controversy. The RUC was formed in April 1922 when the Royal Irish Constabulary was disbanded.

The maximum strength of the new force was set at 3,000 men. There was also an auxiliary force, the Ulster Special Constabulary, known as the B Specials. Initially provision was made for one third of the places in the RUC to be reserved for Catholics, with preference given to former RIC men. But this proportion was never achieved.

By 1969 the RUC's establishment had been increased to 3,500. Only 11% were Catholic. Following an inquiry into the riots and disturbances in Northern Ireland in 1969, the Home Secretary Jim Callaghan ordered a commission headed by Lord Hunt to advise on the policing problem.

The subsequent report, published in October 1969, recommended a complete reorganisation of the RUC.

The RUC was disarmed and a new rank structure was introduced. The B Specials, which had a membership of about 10,000 in 1969 and had been increasingly seen as a Protestant army were disbanded.

In its place, the RUC Reserve was formed as an auxiliary police force. All military-style duties were handed over to the Ulster Defence Regiment, which was under military command. It was later disbanded as well.

But the disarming of the RUC was short lived. By late 1971, sidearms were again issued. As the campaign against the police intensified so did the level of police armament. Vehicles and buildings were armoured against gun, bomb and missile attacks.

Manpower was gradually increased to 8,500 for the RUC and another 5,000 for the reserve. The proportion of Catholics in the force is about 8%.

Condemned by republicans, nationalists and human rights groups for embodying sectarianism and lauded by supporters and 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.

The RUC has also suffered heavily during The Troubles. The force itself has lost 302 in the 30 years of the Troubles and 8,500 have been injured.

It was to this situation that the Right Honourable Chris Patten came as the head of the International Independent Commission on Policing in Northern Ireland. The Patten report, issued 9 September, 1999, recommended 175 changes to the RUC including a new name, the Northern Ireland Police Force - later changed to the Police Service of Northern Ireland - a new badge, and a new police board to include members of all parties entitled to seats in the Assembly Executive, including Sinn Fein.

Publishing his report Mr Patten said that its key objective was to "depoliticise" policing.

"Policing in Northern Ireland has suffered, often with disastrous consequences, from being a political issue, and from being associated with the dispute about the state itself", he said.
 
Before Viewing
 
The class could discuss their opinions towards policing in a short session covering three main points:
  1. Why do we need a police service?
  2. What do we feel is good policing?
  3. What are our feelings towards policing in Northern Ireland?
After Viewing
 
The following quotations from the programme could provide a stimulus for debate and discussion. How do we feel about the comments?
  • "I was talking to a person the other day and he was saying where he lives they would be put out of their area if they phoned the police for anything. And I found this so weird and I was like, You're joking me! because right enough, if somebody came up and was shouting outside your door or something, you would phone the police and try and get it sorted out. I just found it so strange that this community found that they couldn't rely on the police at all, that it was that bad that they couldn't even phone the police if something really serious was happening to them." - Donna
     
  • "It just goes to show the extent that the police aren't liked if people are in danger and they're not going to phone the police which is why something does need to be done about it." - Karen
     
  • "But what I felt was, are they actually in danger from the police, or are they actually in danger from the people in their community?" - Donna
     
  • "Most young people are not dangerous, they are not out to destroy society and the police must take that on board, they must be realistic in the way that they approach problems involving young people. But unless young people themselves organise in such a way as to get their views across to the police then there is going to be a break down in communication." - Prof. Brice Dickson
     
  • "....fair enough men and women's bodies are different and they're capable of doing different things, but I think a woman could be in the police. I mean, I don't think the police should be about fighting and violence, but it is at the moment." - Shauna
     
  • "In the past I think the police in Northern Ireland have not given priority to the protection of human rights because they have been concerned with the fight against what they call terrorism. Now that we are in a relatively peaceful situation, its proper that the focus of the police be shifted back to what is one of their main aims which is to ensure that the rights of everybody are protected." - Prof. Brice Dickson
     






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