PSNI plan to increase Catholic recruits
The PSNI has produced an action plan to tackle the shortage of Catholics joining the force, but says it will not bring back 50/50 recruitment.
Just 31% of those to apply during three recent police recruitment drives were from a Catholic background.
Of those who made it through to the merit pool, only 19% were Catholic.
This is despite nationalist communities being specifically targeted in the recruitment drives.
Deputy Chief Constable Drew Harris said he was optimistic that if political and civic society worked with the PSNI, the number of Catholic recruits could reach 50% within five years.
He ruled out the reintroduction of the controversial 50/50 recruitment policy which operated from 2001 to 2011 and helped to increase the number of Catholic officers from 8% to 31%.
Instead, the PSNI intends to make a number of changes to the recruitment process, including reducing the time from initial selection test to appointment from 12 months to six months.
Targeting 'cold spots'
Consideration is also being given to alternative entry routes into the PSNI, such as police constable apprenticeship schemes, DCC Harris revealed.
A new recruitment drive is to be launched in the autumn and an advertising campaign will target "cold spots" across Northern Ireland where it has proven particularly difficult to attract people from the Catholic community.
An action plan was drawn up by senior police after consulting firm Deloitte carried out research into the reasons behind the reluctance of Catholics to sign up.
The report by Deloitte - Understanding Barriers Affecting Police Officer Recruitment - found that the opinion of family and friends was a barrier to members of the Catholic community.
It added that "perception the service is not inclusive and legacy perceptions are very strong for individuals from a Catholic community background".
The report also found that many Catholic applicants dropped out of the recruitment process ahead of the initial selection test as many were keeping their application secret and did not want to attend an exam centre with other people in an unfamiliar setting.
In addition, the report said the recruitment process was too long, leading to a "prolonged 'contemplation' period for applicants".
This added pressure to Catholic applicants who were more likely to keep their application secret, it said.
In response to the findings, the initial selection test will be carried out online, so that candidates do not have to physically attend.
Dep Ch Con Harris said while the PSNI is prepared to do all it can to encourage Catholic officers to apply, police "don't hold the levers that will change that 30% to 50%".
"We need strong visible and verbal support for policing which is demonstrated by a wide spectrum of society, be it politicians and other civic leaders," he said.
"We don't have that at the moment."