THE PSNI Chief Constable has told MPs that he needs more officers to deal with the current threat level of further violence.
Matt Baggott told the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee on Thursday that ongoing protests are “stripping out district policing”.
The NI Police Federation has been warning for months that the PSNI is under resourced and needs a further 1,000 officers.
So far 174 people have been arrested and 124 charged after disorder following loyalist flag protests.
Protests started in December after Belfast City Council voted by 29-21 to only fly the Union flag on designated days above the City Hall.
As the Chief Constable was speaking, the PSNI issued advice to protestors to keep marches peaceful.
A statement said: “It is unlawful to block roads or prevent free flow of vehicular or pedestrian traffic and doing so leaves you liable for prosecution.
“Protesters should not conceal their identity by covering their face and obviously must remain peaceful, ie do not use violent or threatening behaviour against public or police.”
Mr Baggott told MLAs at MPs at the House of Commons on Thursday: “I think we need to review again, in the light of the last six months of protest followed by protest followed by protest, the level of resourcing we have.
“We are no longer 15,000 strong, plus the army.
“We are 7,000 strong and tackling a significant threat from terrorism, dissident republicanism, dealing with organised crime, managing public protection, delivering personal policing.
“I want those police officers delivering neighbourhood policing and all the things that go with a modern police service that’s operating in a democratic framework.”
On Wednesday, a senior PSNI detective said more than 70 PSNI officers are investigating nearly two months of disorder throughout the region.
And Detective Supt Sean Wrights said the PSNI was moving towards arresting people at the scene of illegal protests or disorder and bringing them quickly before the courts.
“Looking forward over the next two or three years, judging that against the way in which we’ve seen the last six months unfold, I think it’s inevitable we will need to have more police officers,” the Chief Constable told the committee.
He added that there had growing tension in relation to a number of issues including parading.
Matt Baggott urged that had PSNI been “over-zealous” from the beginning of the protests, it may have only provoked more people to the streets.
It was also revealed on Wednesday that two senior officers from London Metropolitan Police who policed the summer riots there in 2011 have been brought in to help with the investigations.
He said there was a danger in comparing the riots that have broken out in Belfast following flag protests with the rioting in London.
“I think the similarity there was the role social media played in galvanizing large numbers of people onto the street very quickly,” he said.
“But they are so different, so much as to be incomparable.”
Police Federation chairman Terry Spence told MPs that the 7,000 police figure devised under Patton reforms was not appropriate in the current political climate and called for an extra thousand officers.
“We don’t have any semblance of a peaceful scenario,” he said.
“The threat level has been described by the chief constable as at the upper end of severe and we have these murders taking place, we have loyalist paramilitaries who are much more active and pose a real threat to the peace process.
“Both loyalist paramilitaries and dissident republicans have been engaged in murder, in the last twelve months so it’s not getting better anytime soon and that’s why we believe that we need these resources urgently,” added Mr Spence.