The PSNI is sitting on a mountain of 45 million documents pertaining to legacy matters, but does not have the resources to deal with it, Chief Constable George Hamilton has said.
In addition to the paper record, the police chief revealed there are three legacy IT systems which fewer and fewer people in the service now know how to use.
Mr Hamilton spoke out during the Stuck In the Past panel discussion at the West Belfast Festival on Tuesday.
“We have a massive vault of disclosure that is creating problems, bad feelings and anger and frustration through the current processes,” he said.
“We reckon there is about 45 million pieces of paper.
“There are three legacy IT systems that don’t talk to each other, which are not entirely searchable, that the knowledge of even how to use them is disappearing as people leave the organisation.
“We are sitting on mountains of materials, all of which we need to go through.”
Mr Hamilton said he is supportive of the remit of the proposed Independent Commission for Information Retrieval (ICIR).
The ICIR, an element of the proposals on dealing with the past which are currently out for public consultation, is aimed at enabling family members to seek and privately receive information about the Troubles-related deaths of their relatives.
“I support the outcome the ICIR is trying to achieve, we want to engage with it, but it needs to be properly resourced,” he said.
“We are sitting on material, we are not going to shred it, we are going to keep it, we are going to act in good faith, but it is a monster.”
The PSNI chief appeared on a panel which also included Victims Commissioner Judith Thompson, republican Sean Murray, loyalist Winston Irvine and academic Louise Mallinder.
The discussion was chaired by journalist Brian Rowan.
Mr Hamilton took part in a similar event at the West Belfast Festival with former deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness in 2015.
He acknowledged people may feel not much progress has been made since then.
Mr Hamilton said he feels like he is caught in an “impossible position” in terms of dealing with the past.
I understand that families are frustrated, hurt and perhaps angry by the seemingly endless delays in their search for justice or even for answers Chief Constable George Hamilton
“I understand that families are frustrated, hurt and perhaps angry by the seemingly endless delays in their search for justice or even for answers,” he said.
“Those delays are not as a result of any single individual or even any single organisation, they are as a result of the existing current piecemeal and entirely inadequate quagmire that is the processes that currently exist for dealing with the past, or not dealing with the past.
“In my role as chief constable, I feel like I am in an impossible position.
“I feel I am caught between legal obligations on one hand, financial constraints on the other, and if I had a third hand, it would be about public expectations.
“At times I have had no option other than to appeal some court judgements, and I know that has caused frustration for families still waiting for answers.”
He added: “However I felt that I had no choice.
“The police service simply doesn’t have the financial or the human resources to deal with some of these judgements as they currently stand, and on occasions the judgements, I believe, are actually contradictory and unworkable.
“I said here in 2015 that the current approach is not working for anybody.
“And in the continuing political vacuum, witnesses and members of grieving families are passing away without resolution. This simply cannot be allowed to continue. That is why this consultation is so important and the framework coming out of it needs to work to take us to a better place than where we are now.”