On Patrol in a Polarized City

Long distrusted by the region's Catholics, Northern Ireland's police are trying to recast the force as nonpartisan

Crispin Rodwell for TIME

Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) officer Neil Simpson on patrol in North Belfast.

It would be nice, the police superintendent says, to take down the high, barbed-wire-topped walls that ring Antrim Road police station. Plenty else has changed already. The petrol bombs and bullets that the walls used to hold back have stopped flying. Guards at the gate no longer keep their guns conspicuously unholstered. In fact, so much has changed in the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) that when a young Roman Catholic like Rory Fitzpatrick--who just 15 years ago could have viewed the force as his natural enemy--explains why he joined in 2004, his answers are unremarkable: Good prospects, good work,...

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