Every eight weeks in Cork, a member of An Garda Siochana is subjected to a serious syringe-related stab or injury.
Figures obtained by the Evening Echo under the Freedom of Information Act reveal that in the last two years, 12 Gardaí here have been stabbed or pricked with hypodermic needles and exposed to potentially infected blood or body fluid.
Cork Garda Michael Corcoran, from the Garda Representative Association, said that while the figures remain relatively low, they have been increasing in recent years in line with the growth of heroin use here.
“Heroin was never a drug of choice really in Cork up until 2008 or so. That was the first time we started seeing it on a sustained basis,” he said.
“There are substantial risks if you get stuck with a needle. The person who used it may have HIV or Hepatitis B and you will have to wait for three months before test results will determine if you've contracted something or not.” Garda Corcoran explained some syringe pricks take place as part of assaults on members of the force.
“Sometimes it is deliberate because people will use whatever is near them. If you are a drug user and you want to attack a Garda, you're going to use a needle because that's what you have,” he said.
“Needles are particularly dangerous because they could possibly penetrate the ballistics vest that we wear. The needle is different to a projectile – a bullet or something - because it is focused on a very, very tiny point. So you could be unlucky and it could actually go through the ballistics vest.” Needle pricks also take place accidentally, however, largely when Garda carry out body searches of people who are carrying syringes on their person.
While members of the force can us something called an ample probe – essentially a large-scale tweezers or tongs – to search people, they need to be trained to use this equipment.
“For the ample probe there's a specific training, but training was cut back on nearly everything during the slump and so people are not up to speed on stuff like that. The ample probe training specifically hasn't been carried out for a while so people are not well trained in the use of them,” said Garda Corcoran.
“If you don't have one of those with you and you're searching somebody and you put your hand in their pocket and there's a needle inside.. even if you're wearing gloves you could easily be stuck.” He said that even one incident of this is one too many, and said higher levels of Gardai receiving such injuries are likely considering the rise in the use of heroin here, particularly in Cork city.