Baggott grilled on policing in south Armagh

April 27, 2010

During his visit to Crossmaglen, the Examiner journalist, Brónagh Murphy, conducted an exclusive one-on-one interview with Mr Baggott, posing questions on subjects such as community policing and how he hopes to engage the confidence of the people of Crossmaglen in the PSNI.

Q: Why are you here Crossmaglen today?

A: I’ve come to show people here respect because my ambition, and it is shared by my colleagues here, is to give people the finest personal police service in the world, and I genuinely mean that.

Day by day, in spite of our own security sometimes being threatened by people who don’t understand who we are, we are genuinely trying to do the very best for people in Crossmaglen and south Armagh.

Q: So you are here to try and engage with the community?

A:  Yes, I’m here because I want to do that.  The PSNI swears allegiance to no one.  It is here to serve everybody.  When my new young colleagues join the PSNI, they actually swear allegiance to the people in Northern Ireland, they don’t swear allegiance to the Queen, so they are here to serve everybody.  Whether they are nationalists, republicans, it doesn’t matter, and I think that’s misunderstood.

So part of me being here today is to respect the people of Crossmaglen, to spend some time listening to what people want, but also to send a message that actually we are here for everybody.  So if the Chief Constable doesn’t come to spend some time in Crossmaglen, then there’s something wrong.

Q: What makes you different or what will you do differently from your predecessors?

A: My predecessors did a great job in making the PSNI happen.  My job is to give people the best policing in the world, which is caring, compassionate, impartial, doesn’t ask people who they are, does exactly the right things, and that is what my colleagues are trying to do here.

People have got their own political views and I respect that but the reality is that whatever happens in the future, there must be a police service.

Now I’ve got 30% of my colleagues from a Catholic background.  People are joining us from all walks of life.  I know people who have lost loved ones in the Troubles and their children have joined the PSNI because it’s a place they want to be.

Q: Part of your visit today is to encourage community policing in Crossmaglen.  Given the current dissident threat, how do you plan to respond to or investigate this threat without alienating the community here?

A: My visit is to encourage good policing in the town, not just community policing.  We work completely in accordance with the Human Rights Act so everything we do now is under European law, it’s under the Human Rights Act and the justice system.   So when we have to investigate people that are using extreme violence, we will still work within the rules.  We will charge people and we will bring them to court.  We are doing things in the justice system.  I think people need to have confidence that what we do is entirely lawful.

Q: Given the history of policing in south Armagh, do you understand why people in the area are sceptical of the police?

A: I know there is a lot of mistrust but this is 2010 and the PSNI is a different, impartial and caring organisation.  We don’t always get it right but I’ve not met anybody here who doesn’t actually want to be able to do the very best they can for the people of Crossmaglen and south Armagh.

We’re not fighting a war.  When we come across an accident on the road and some one’s life has to be saved, police officers don’t ask who you are before they give mouth-to-mouth, we just help them.

So I’m asking everybody here to trust.  I want people who are using violence against my colleagues to think about the fact that the police service here does not represent anything of the past.  It’s a modern police service, it’s there for their children and families and we need to have the opportunity to do that.

Q: Given the recent car bomb attacks in Newry, Newtownhamilton and here in Crossmaglen, how do you assess the dissident threat?

A: The threat is severe because a number of people do not believe that the PSNI is different when it is.

I’ve met very few people who want to go back to the past and everybody I’ve met here today has said to me that they don’t want that.  But we have a small number of people who seem to be fighting a war.  They have their own motivations for doing it and it’s very sad.  The war is over, nobody wants it.  People want to move on.

Q: There have been suggestions that the PSNI does not have the resources to police south Armagh effectively.  What is your answer to that?

A: I think we have the resources but in a democratic society we shouldn’t be policing with massive fences the way we are having to do here.  The answer is whether or not my colleagues are allowed to do their job.  Whilst we have a number of people who are intent on bombing and shooting, it’s very difficult.  If I put more police here, people might say it is oppressive.  So what we are trying to do is give the right level of policing and having the right numbers.

Q: The police response to a car abandoned in Dromintee that was linked to the Newry courthouse bomb was described by many as inadequate and derisory.  What is your reaction to that suggestion?

A: We have to put security first and that is about protecting officers’ own safety, plus the fact that the car had to be recovered.  It was a caution we had to exercise and the fact is, we got the car back, but clearly no one is going to say that is acceptable because we’d rather it hadn’t happened.

Q: So you agree it was unacceptable?

A: Yes, well, we’d rather it hadn’t happened but I do have to say to colleagues here that their safety and their security has to come first.

Q: You met with Fachtna Murphy, the Garda Commissioner, last Friday after which a ‘seamless’ approach to cross border policing was promised.

What form will this relationship take or what will change that hadn’t been in effect before now?

A: There will be better communication and better sharing of our expertise.  We’ve got Garda colleagues already working with us and we’ll be working with them.

Policing is about protecting people.  The border is somewhat artificial for police officers because criminals cross it, so we’ve got to police it in a more relaxed way and have better sharing of our people.

Q: Does that mean sharing police officers across the border?

A: We must not disrespect the fact that there is a border but the reality is that I have the Garda Superintendent working with me at the moment and we will have people working with the Garda.

Provided we don’t compromise the sovereignty, because that’s for politicians to decide, I’m very relaxed at doing anything we can to make people’s lives better and I know my colleague Fachtna Murphy is the same.

It was great to have Dermot Ahern alongside David Ford during that meeting.  The politicians are well behind us on this now and that is a great thing for me.

Following the interview, Mr Baggott continued on his walkabout, dropping into the Community Centre before returning to the barracks.

Soon after, the sight of a helicopter rising from the base signalled the end of his hugely significant visit to the heart of south Armagh.