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Garda Commissioner Drew Harris speaking to media at Garda HQ in the Phoenix Park , Dublin. Photo:Gareth Chaney/Collins
Garda Commissioner Drew Harris speaking to media at Garda HQ in the Phoenix Park , Dublin. Photo:Gareth Chaney/Collins
SOCIAL BOOKMARKS

Commissioner outlines emergency policing measures; Fears criminals will seek to exploit crisis

GARDA Commissioner Drew Harris has raised concerns about criminals taking advantage of the coronavirus emergency to scam people or engage in other criminal activities. 

Commissioner Harris said alternatives to arresting people were being considered but that public safety will remain paramount throughout the coronavirus emergency. 

Commissioner Harris said: "Where alternative methods can be used and used appropriately that will be done but in many cases we will still have no option but arrest, and think of more serious offences or where public safety is at risk.

"We have to be prudent about that as I've said but we are equipping our staff with measures in place to make sure that we can continue obviously to protect society. Arrest is inevitably an essential part of that and there is no ban on arrests in any shape or form."

Asked whether proactive investigations will be reduced, Commissioner Harris said: "At this moment in time the steps that we are taking are largely based on our uniform complement. Our detective complement at this stage is being allowed to carry on with their serious crime investigations, proactive investigations, gathering of intelligence.

Garda Commissioner Drew Harris speaking to media at Garda HQ in the Phoenix Park , Dublin. Photo: Gareth Chaney/Collins
Garda Commissioner Drew Harris speaking to media at Garda HQ in the Phoenix Park , Dublin. Photo: Gareth Chaney/Collins

"We do have concerns, we have seen it in other jurisdictions where fraudsters, organised crime groups have engaged in fraud, engaged in criminal activity based on the fears that they are exploiting in society, we are very alive to that, we want to make sure we are being proactive in combating organised crime groups and others who would seek to criminally exploit this situation as well.

"We are here to protect people, provide a policing service but also provide community support."

He said the force is making sure they have enough numbers to "cope with whatever situation we may see in the future".

"We are here, primarily we are a policing service but very much we are going to support other agencies as well. We have a community responsibility, we're a community policing organisation, we're not forgetting the threat which can arise from criminal groups," he said.

Asked whether garda will be patrolling supermarkets and pharmacies, Commissioner Harris said: "Any patrolling that is taking place is in the background of reassurance. 

"Where we have been at supermarkets, that has been to assist as much with traffic flow, provide reassurance in terms of our presence but we have no particular concerns in respect of those premises. 

"But there is a lot of people there, there is traffic flow issues and it is a good place for us to be to deploy our staff.

"There will be extra patrols generally, people will see an uplift in visibility, should be reassured by that in that we are making sure we have a good presence on the ground to protect people and allay their concerns in respect of crime or anti social behaviour."

Commissioner Harris said plans announced for the Garda on Friday were aimed at ensuring core functions can continue in the event of its own staff being impacted by coronavirus.

"There is a prospect obviously that this organisation, as well as other organisations, will be impacted by Covid-19 as well so in part we are drawing up our plans as to how we can continue to maintain our core functions, that's prudent for us to do given the experiences of other countries," he said.

"We're learning from the experience of Europe ... we can build our response on that."

Asked if he would provide an estimate of how many Garda might be impacted by coronavirus, Commissioner Harris said: "No, I don't have a rough estimate, we are in uncharted waters and so it would be wrong for me to speculate.

Garda Commissioner Drew Harris speaking to media at Garda HQ in the Phoenix Park , Dublin. Photo:Gareth Chaney/Collins
Garda Commissioner Drew Harris speaking to media at Garda HQ in the Phoenix Park , Dublin. Photo:Gareth Chaney/Collins

"What we have to do is maximise our resources, now if we have a self-isolation type scenario, we need to get those individuals tested, back to the front line if they can come back as quickly as possible. But we are following the HSE advice, we are an emergency service and obviously then we would seek a priority in terms of having our staff assessed and if so brought back to the front line."

Asked how many Garda members have been affected so far, Commissioner Harris said: "I don't want to give those numbers, we've been in this scenario already just over the last week. 

"This is a new scenario for us, we have managed this with the HSE and had a quick response and brought members back to duty but also then been able to deal with decontamination issues in cells or indeed in vehicles.

"We are well used to dealing with infectious diseases and this case is obviously the scale and ease of transmission but regularly we are having to have stations deep cleaned, vehicles deep cleaned and that's a function we can draw down upon everywhere across the estate."

Meanwhile, there has been a marked reduction in the number of people on trolleys since the Covid-19 outbreak began in the Republic of Ireland.

Chief operations officer at the Health Service Executive (HSE) Anne O'Connor said: "In terms of our trolley count - that has dropped away considerably.

There were just two people on trolleys in CUH yesterday.

"The trolley count is lower than we have ever seen in quite some time. Our hospital attendances and admissions are way down this week.

"There are just 57 patients waiting on trolleys today - that is a very, very different number compared to what we are used to during the winter period."