Thursday, September 13, 2012

The Garda Siochana's Role in Policing the Town

When did you last see a member of the Garda Siochana patrolling the streets of Athy?  This was the question I was asked some days ago.  My answer may not have satisfied my questioner but it prompted me to ask the same question of several people during the week.  It was clear that those questioned were unhappy with the present level of Garda presence on the streets of our town. 

The initial question posed to me was apparently prompted by concern at the apparent move away from traditional policing methods in recent years.  Another reason proffered was the failure of senior Garda management to deal promptly or adequately with the paramilitary display witnessed in our capital city earlier in the week.

The primary role of the Garda Siochana is crime prevention and crime detection.  Yet, senior Garda management seem to have prioritised traffic monitoring with the setting up of traffic corps throughout the country.  Here in Athy we have a traffic corps consisting of 10 Gardai and 2 sergeants.  The other station personnel engaged in non traffic duties comprise 16 Gardai, 2 detectives and 3 sergeants.

While accepting that traffic corps personnel can and are sometimes assigned to help their colleagues in non traffic duties, nevertheless the inordinate emphasis on vehicular traffic offences seems strange.  I know that the stock answer given to any questioning of the role of the traffic corps is that they save lives.  Commendable indeed, but the same personnel employed on the ground on regular policing duties would also undoubtedly save lives. 

There is a feeling amongst the general public which I share that senior Garda management, for whatever reason, have decided to take the easy option in terms of result based policing.  Much easier to have Gardai manning check points to uncover motorists using vehicles without tax discs, insurance, NCT Certificates or driving licences than to deal with the many and varied crimes which afflict Irish society.

Some years ago an acquaintance of mine living in Dublin was the victim of a serious crime.  Her apartment was broken into during the day and the thief, although disturbed, still managed to escape with a considerable amount of property.  The crime was immediately reported to the local Garda Station and while a note of the incident was taken there was no apparent follow up.  No member of the Gardai came to the apartment to investigate the crime and no communication was ever received from the Gardai in relation to same.  At the same time Gardai were to be seen every Sunday morning on the dual carriageway near the Red Cow with speed cameras ‘shooting fish in a barrell’ as it was described by one letter writer to the national newspapers. 

Garda priority at the time was obviously concerned with the offence of travelling in excess of 40 mph on the dual carriageway.  Why I wonder – was it as claimed by many that the Gardai were seeking to increase the revenue take from the imposition of penalties?

What the events in Dublin last week indicate is that senior Garda management display a lack of appreciation of their role as guardians of the peace.  It’s a role which cannot and should not be subverted by any group in our society and the failure to deal with the issue at the time reflects badly on the Gardai.

Equally unacceptable is the continuing failure of the Gardai to patrol our streets in keeping with their responsibility to the local community.  Maintaining traffic corps at the expense of community related policing is an error of senior Garda management and needs to be addressed immediately.

One of the measures taken by the local Gardai and the Town Council in recent times was the setting up of a Joint Policing Committee comprising representatives of the Gardai and the Council.  Meetings which are open to the public are held four times a year and the next meeting is scheduled for the Council offices in Rathstewart on Tuesday, 18th September at 9.00 a.m.  The timing of the meeting is somewhat unusual, given that it is a public meeting and one would expect that to accommodate the public an evening meeting would be more convenient.  However, this in itself might highlight another issue relating to local policing which is the non residency of any local Gardai (except one member) in the town in which they serve.  It’s an issue which can only be noted as there is nothing Garda management can realistically do about it. 

Members of the Garda Siochana have an extremely difficult job to do.  That there is dissatisfaction amongst local people at the absence of regular foot patrols in Athy is I believe largely due to senior Garda management’s failure to realise that traffic control is less a priority for Irish citizens than crime prevention and crime detection. 

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