Trevor Laffan: Community policing works... my time in Mayfield proved it

Trevor Laffan recalls the power of community policing and his time serving the community of Mayfield.
Trevor Laffan: Community policing works... my time in Mayfield proved it

BONDING WITH THE COMMUNITY: Trevor Laffan and John O’Connor during their time in Mayfield in the 1990s

I GOT a phone call recently letting me know that P.J. Coogan of 96fm and Cork City Councillor Ted Tynan were discussing anti-social behaviour in Mayfield on the radio and my name was mentioned.

Apparently, some incidents had occurred over the previous weekend and Cllr Tynan was lamenting the loss of community policing. He suggested the work John O’Connor and I were doing back in the 1990s was an example of effective community policing.

It was nice to hear my name mentioned in such a positive light. As Ryan Tubridy often says, every puppy likes to have its belly tickled. 

I’m glad the impact we had on the community is still remembered after all this time.

I left Mayfield on promotion in 2000, more than 20 years ago, and I would have thought I’d be long forgotten by now. Not so apparently.

On the other hand, I was disappointed to hear of these disturbances because I spent ten years in that part of the city, and I can honestly say I loved every minute of it.

Mayfield had a reputation in those days for being a tough spot and some of that was justified. There were some seasoned criminals living there who were largely responsible for most of the negative publicity attached to the area. Hardy characters who kept us on our toes.

Joy-riding, burglaries and criminal damage were rife in the late 1980s and early ’90s in many towns and cities and Cork was no different. 

It was common for cars stolen during the night to be found in the Mayfield district the following morning.

Gardaí on the early morning shift regularly checked the area for abandoned cars. Mayfield was often referred to as Beirut, but that didn’t tell the whole story.

A few dodgy people in an estate can give a place a bad name, which is completely unfair to the other residents. 

I met some of the finest people living in areas with the toughest reputations. 

Decent people who didn’t have it easy, but worked hard and did the best they could for their families. I made lots of friends there and I’m still in contact with some of them.

We’ve seen many examples over the years of troublesome families making life miserable for their neighbours, and according to Sally Hanlon of the Support after Crime Services, it’s still happening. She said recently in this paper that people with a history of intimidating behaviour are being rehoused by Cork City Council, leaving their new neighbours to deal with the intimidation and harassment.

That was a common problem in my time and, while there is no magic wand solution, empowering the community and giving the majority a voice did help. 

Community policing drove that philosophy, with specific gardaí interacting with locals through Neighbourhood Watch schemes, community and resident associations, sporting organisations and schools, etc.

It took time to develop those relationships but as engagement increased, mutual trust and respect was established. Residents found the confidence to stand against criminal and anti-social behaviour and it worked, but it took 20 years to get there.

Sadly, not everyone appreciated it. Governments and garda commissioners change, and priorities change with them.

We were lucky in Cork in so far as community policing was generally well supported by management, but it was still a struggle. The financial crash didn’t help either and community policing was the first casualty of that. A manpower shortage required community gardaí to return to regular policing duties.

Community engagement is not a part-time activity. It begins with the children in primary schools and continues until they reach adulthood. It’s a continuous process and takes years and a great deal of effort to develop these relationships.

That investment pays off in the long run, but not everyone in garda management accepted that, which is a pity because it worked. I’ll give one example.

There was an incident in Mayfield in the ’90s when the staff of a local business arrived for work one Monday morning to find the property had been destroyed with graffiti over the weekend. While it covered a substantial area and was unsightly, it wasn’t crude or offensive. In fact, some of it was tastefully done with impressive artwork. There were some nicknames there too, so it wasn’t too difficult to track down the culprits.

There were five or six teenagers involved, decent youngsters who were never likely to end up as Ireland’s most wanted, so I arranged for the youngsters to repair the damaged area.

The company supplied the paint and the gang set to work one Saturday morning armed with their paint brushes and rollers. The company also provided the hungry labour force with Mars bars and cans of Coke and by the end of the day, the building was restored to its former glory.

The company and the gardaí were satisfied with the outcome. The youngsters were happy because they avoided an early introduction into the criminal justice system while learning a valuable lesson at the same time.

They had some fun too, so it was a good result all round.

I’m retired now, but my former colleagues tell me that dealing with an incident in that way would be more difficult today. PULSE, the garda computer system, would generate a stack of paper demanding an appropriate outcome and would probably blow a fuse trying to recognise a common-sense solution. Health and safety would be another stumbling block.

Times have changed, but we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that we’ve always had a community-based model of policing in this country.

Working with the community to develop relationships and generate trust was paramount during my 35 years in An Garda Siochana, and that should always be the priority.

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