Assistant Chief Constable Alan Todd was responding to criticism from across the political divide in Derry over a loyalist band which took park in Saturday’s parade in the city.
The Clyde Vally Flute Band wore Parachute Regiment insignia during an Apprentice Boys parade in Londonderry.
Members of the flute band from Larne wore the symbol with the letter ‘F’ on their shirts during Saturday’s parade.
Officers flanked the band during the parade and their bus was later stopped by police.
The Apprentice Boys described the police’s actions as “heavy handed”.
Speaking this afternoon at police headquarters in Belfast about the PSNI operation, ACC Todd said: “Anyone in Northern Ireland, including those of us who have responsibility for policing it, understand that in our society space, history and symbols often remain contested.
“This can result in many difficult policing decisions.
“That was the situation we found ourselves in on Saturday in Derry.
“The vast majority of the people who arrived in Derry at the weekend to participate in the parade did so within the law and with due regard to that context.
“One band, chose to take an approach which we believed would have interfered with our legitimate purpose of keeping the peace and keeping people safe.
“On that basis we engaged with them and sought their cooperation to address that in a constructive way; they chose not to do so.
“We sought to engage the involvement of the Organisers and their Marshals to assist us in that and they were unable to do so.
“With a large number of people delayed for a significant amount of time, where some people were parading on the Cityside and other people were waiting on the Waterside area of the City, instead of persisting in that delay with the risks that entailed, we chose to make other operational arrangements to help ensure that people were kept safe and prevent a breach of the peace or a likely breach of the peace for the remainder of the parade.
“Once the parade was finished we took steps to seek to identify those within the band so that we could fulfil our duty to put the matters and facts before the Public Prosecution Service in order that they might determine if there was any liability on the part of those people responsible.
“That is a legitimate policing purpose and was done so professionally. Once those details and assurances were given to us those people were free to travel on their way.
“As a policing service we have a professional responsibility, and a legitimate purpose, to maintain the peace and keep people safe.
“These were the objectives of our decision making on Saturday. The event passed off peacefully, people were kept safe, no one was hurt and nobody was unduly inconvenienced by police actions.
“Derry has for a long time been considered the model for parades and protest. Efforts must now turn to dialogue to ensure that the that the good work of years gone by can be continued.”