Trevor Laffan: Modern, urban youths have to stop viewing guards as enemy

Many children, especially in urban areas, develop an anti-police mentality at a young age, so says Trevor Laffan in his weekly column
Trevor Laffan: Modern, urban youths have to stop viewing guards as enemy

RESPECT: Dublin teenager Jamie Lee with a garda in Laois on an episode of RTE’s Raised By The Village

COVID-19 has been doing a pretty good job of keeping most of us housebound and seated in front of the TV.

I think I’ve watched more television in the last few weeks than I normally would over the course of a year.

I’ve noticed too that with all the channels available to us, there are times when I struggle to find something decent to watch. I did come across two shows though that I found interesting.

The first one was The Guards: Inside The K on Virgin Media. It’s a behind the scenes look at what gardaí face on a daily basis in the K District in Dublin ,which covers Blanchardstown, Finglas and Cabra.

I wasn’t expecting much, to be honest, when I tuned in first, but I was pleasantly surprised.

It’s a very well-made documentary series. I’ve seen a few of the episodes so far and it gives a very accurate account on what life is like for gardaí in the Big Smoke.

It’s changed a lot from when I was stationed there in the early eighties. Even though I spent 35 years in that organisation, I was taken aback at some of the scenes.

It’s a tougher area to police now and certainly more violent than it was in my day. It surprised me too how young the members are, but maybe that’s just me getting older.

I’ve only been retired for the last five years but I know I wouldn’t be able for that job now. It’s a young person’s game so I’m happy to leave it to them while I observe from the comfort of my recliner.

The second programme that caught my eye was Reared By The Village on RTÉ. In this show, they take troubled teenagers from an urban environment and introduce them to life in the countryside, where community is at the heart of everything.

The episode I saw involved a teenager from Clondalkin who was brought to a small farm in Laois. The 14-year-old normally lives in a two- bedroomed apartment with his mother and his three younger siblings in an area blighted by drug dealing, anti-social behaviour and joyriding. Some of his friends are already involved with the gardaí.

The two places are worlds apart, so he was understandably nervous about leaving his familiar territory. Before he left, he was asked by his buddy what he thought it was going to be like down in the country? He said he expected it to be full of pigs and muddy roads.

He was surprised to discover that it wasn’t like that at all, and he was also surprised at the amount of freedom the local youngsters had and how they could, within reason, come and go as they pleased.

That amount of leeway would be very risky for a youngster from Dublin’s inner city.

Allowing a young teenager to wander the streets in the heart of Dublin unsupervised would be a recipe for disaster. There are too many temptations — lots of opportunities for kids to go down the wrong path and fall in with the wrong crowd.

So, it’s very challenging for parents raising children in a large urban environment like that.

The programme follows the progress of these kids as they try to get back on track and improve the relationship they have with their parents.

I’m not sure whether it works or not every time, but it certainly had an impact on this young fella because he ended up in tears when it was time to return home.

The thing that grabbed my attention though was his visit to the nearby garda station where he was brought to meet the local sergeant. They were chatting away, but you could see the young lad was holding back and he was slow to engage. He told the sergeant he would never talk to the guards in Dublin because they were the enemy. I thought that was very sad.

He’s not alone. Many children, especially in urban areas, develop an anti-police mentality at a young age without knowing why. There are reasons for this and the garda schools programme was one tool developed to combat it. It set out a plan for regular, structured visits to the primary schools by trained gardaí.

Engagement between young people and the gardaí is crucial and the primary schools provide an ideal place to start. I know from experience that the programme works. I actively promoted it for many years in Cork and we saw the benefits of it until it fell victim to the cutbacks. That needs to be addressed.

The title of the programme, Reared By The Village, also reminded me of my own childhood. I often left the house early in the morning to meet my friends and didn’t come home again until it was time to eat. Sometimes I even forgot about food, even though you wouldn’t believe that if you saw me now.

My parents didn’t worry about me either because I never strayed too far, and they always knew who I was with.

They had a secret weapon too — the community. There were always plenty of eyes looking out for us.

My father told me when I was very small that, no matter where I went or what I did, there would always be somebody watching. He was right of course.

We were raised by the entire community, who checked us if we stepped out of line and we never questioned that authority.

If you forgot your manners, you would be quickly reminded by the shopkeeper, a neighbour, the postman or anyone else within earshot.

Times have changed. It would be a brave soul who would dare to correct an unruly child these days.

No wonder the young lad on the programme was crying. He has seen where we’re headed.

More in this section

Sponsored Content