Northern Ireland remains one of the least likely places in the UK to become a victim of crime.
Crimes such as burglary and robbery continue to fall and, indeed, are at their lowest levels in 15 years. Last year 9,117 burglaries were reported to police, that was 404 fewer than in 2012.
Likewise, there have been significant reductions in violence with injury offences, vehicle related thefts and criminal damage. Nonetheless protecting the most vulnerable continues to be an imperative for us and the opening of the Rowan Centre, a state of the art multi-agency facility to serve victims of sexual assault, is testament to that desire. It is my hope that it will encourage victims not only to seek the professional support available but will also assist us to deal with such traumatic offences even more effectively.
Each year the Northern Ireland Crime Survey, administered independently on behalf of the Department of Justice, provides information on crime and confidence in the Police Service of Northern Ireland. Even with the stresses and strains of the past year, it is pleasing to see that the level of confidence in local policing is at its highest level. In addition, an independent company telephones victims of crime to get their views on the service they received from us. Of the nearly 22,000 people surveyed, since the process began in 2010, 97% have indicated that they are satisfied with the experience. Overall confidence in policing remains around 80% according to the latest Department of Justice quarterly survey.
We are deeply committed to making the Police Service of Northern Ireland even more personal, accessible and relevant. At this time, we are in the process of replacing the non emergency number with an easier one for people to remember, 101.
The 101 non emergency number will provide one easy way to contact police to report crime and other concerns that do not require an emergency police response.
Sadly, 2013 also brought challenges of a different kind and the year saw prolonged protest and disorder which stretched the Police Service of Northern Ireland and resulted in many injured officers. The commitment of police colleagues has been remarkable and their restraint world class.
The right to peaceful protest is at the very heart of a democratic society and our protection of that lawful right is a responsibility we take very seriously. We will continue to do so but when protest turns to violence and law breaking then we will do everything possible to protect life and bring people to justice. If, at the time, our only option is to contain disorder because of its scale and intensity, we will always pursue those responsible in due course. I warned repeatedly that there would be consequences and almost 700 people have now been charged or reported for their unlawful actions. A very fragile situation was dealt with responsibly, justice delivered and not a single member of the public was seriously injured. This stands in stark contrast to other parts of the world.
This outcome was achieved because in 2012 we increased the numbers of public order trained officers and invested in better equipment. Despite that, last July the potential for disorder was so significant that I brought more police officers over from Great Britain to assist. They worked alongside our colleagues in a seamless and effective way and drew praise from many for their professionalism. I am very grateful for their support and we will not hesitate to call upon them again if necessary to uphold the rule of law.
The end of 2013 also saw an increase in terrorism. There remains a small number of people who reject peace. Our pursuit of them is relentless and working closely with colleagues in An Garda Síochána we have had significant success in disrupting and preventing attacks. That work resulted in 67 charges in 2013 for terrorist offences.
Organised crime groups, some with links to paramilitary organisations, also provide a very real threat to people’s safety, particularly to the most vulnerable.
We are determined to deal with the activities of all these groups both local and international. We have been very successful in dealing with robbery, drugs trafficking and human trafficking and exploitation. It is our ambition to make Northern Ireland a hostile place for criminal gangs and you can be assured we will assess and act upon any information we receive.
In 2013, there were 4,235 drug seizure incidents across Northern Ireland, with a street value of approximately £10.6 million. In the same period 2,779 drug related arrests were made.
The Police Service of Northern Ireland will remain resilient in tackling the unexpected such as floods, remain in the heart of communities and continue to confront serious crime and harm. In this regard we have recently secured the funding to recruit almost 400 police officers and are hopeful that we will be in a position to increase this number by a further 300 in the following year. Many of these officers will be working in community policing and I am delighted that recruitment is now moving forward.
Finally, you may be aware that I shall retire from policing later this year. It has been an absolute privilege to serve as Chief Constable in Northern Ireland. I do believe the Police Service of Northern Ireland has proven itself to be an impartial service, deeply committed to improving the lives of all people. There is more to be done but I would ask for your continued support as my colleagues deal with both the dilemmas and opportunities of the future."