The most senior Catholic police officer in the North has said that he has experienced sectarianism in policing in the past.
In an exclusive interview with the Sunday Tribune, Assistant Chief Constable, Peter Sheridan, said he had witnessed unacceptable behaviour and attitudes from some colleagues while in the RUC.
He was speaking as Sinn Féin prepares to call a special ard fheis where the leadership will recommend supporting the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI). The party has experienced strong resistance from grassroots in some areas.
Sources said Sinn Féin policing spokesman, Gerry Kelly, had been given "a very hard time" in north Belfast since returning from the St Andrews' negotiations. "A lot of people in Ardoyne are very angry and are saying they'll never vote Sinn Féin again," the source said.
Appealing to Sinn Féin to take the historic step of supporting the police, Peter Sheridan admitted problems had existed in the past:
"There were a few bad apples in the barrel. Some sectarianism was inevitable because the RUC, as an organisation, was 90% Protestant. Any sectarianism wasn't institutional, it was from individuals.
"It was like whole areas being demonised because of the attitudes of a few people in them. Everybody in an entire community being treated as suspect. Sometimes, less that nice language was used."
Occasionally, he was unhappy about how people stopped at checkpoints were treated. "I came across bigots in the police but it was on a very small scale. The vast majority of officers were decent people. My own style has always been to treat people equally and with respect, regardless of their politics or what they think of the police."
Sheridan is seen as a possible future Chief Constable when Hugh Orde steps down. While acknowledging that some republicans would never accept the police, he said Sinn Féin must "show leadership" and move forward.
"During the debate before the ANC joined the police in South Africa, a phrase was used 'sekenjelo' 'the time is now'. I would say to Sinn Féin, 'the time is now'. As a society, we can either go over all the wrongs we did to each other in the past or we can move into the future."
Sheridan said the nationalist community was often ahead of Sinn Féin on the issue: "Reported crime in Crossmaglen rose 155% last year. That doesn't mean there was more crime, it's just that people started reporting it."