Trevor Laffan: We need to reclaim the streets from ‘untouchable’ criminals

People are constantly complaining about the lack of garda presence in their community and this lack of engagement is contributing to the general lawlessness, so says Trevor Laffan in his weekly column
Trevor Laffan: We need to reclaim the streets from ‘untouchable’ criminals

PRESENCE: Trevor Laffan spent 35 years in the guards and says dedicated beat patrols are a good deterrent. Picture iStock

DURING my 35 years as a member of An Garda Siochana, I served in several stations in both Dublin and Cork.

In the early days, I was proud to wear the uniform, and even though I was a just small cog in a large wheel, I was happy to be doing my bit to keep the streets safe.

When I started out on the beat, I knew little of policing, but I still felt I was making a contribution by just being out there, walking around.

Walking the beat was a major part of policing in those days. Being present and visible created a sense of security in the community and people liked to see it. They would often stop you for a chat or just smile and say hello. Many would comment on how nice it was to see a garda on the beat in the locality and it just made them feel better. It was an effective deterrent too.

People who never had any reason to go near a garda station often told me about the comfort they got from just knowing the station was there. Just seeing the light on at night gave them a feeling of security and safety.

It was far from being the perfect organisation then. Mistakes were made and there were some rotten apples in the garda barrel too, but most of them were rooted out.

The vast majority were honest, dedicated members of the Force who wanted to wage war on crime. And there was plenty of it. There was no shortage of criminals either, but I never felt like they were winning or that we ever came close to becoming a lawless society.

I’m sensing a change in recent times though and it’s making me uncomfortable. Senator Jerry Buttimer expressed the view some time ago that Cork city was becoming a ‘no-go’ area due to anti-social behaviour. He said people felt threatened and worried when walking the streets of the city due to the presence of gangs of youths.

Dublin has similar problems. A programme on TV recently highlighted the growing issue of anti-social behaviour in the capital city. They showed footage of assaults, joyriding, marauding gangs, drunkenness, and general bad behaviour. Some of the assaults were serious in nature and totally unprovoked.

Many of those interviewed expressed the opinion that there weren’t enough gardaí on the streets. Gangs were running amok in town, roaming the streets, causing assaults and random acts of violence and anti-social behaviour. Many felt it wasn’t safe to walk alone, and people were choosing alternative routes home to avoid trouble.

One woman said she had been assaulted and waited for an hour and a half for the gardaí to arrive, but they never came. Another guy said he had been assaulted getting off the Luas and called the gardaí, but they never arrived. There were numerous complaints of anti-social behaviour on public transport too.

This was confirmed by Dermot O’Leary, general secretary of the National Bus and Rail Union (NBRU) who said rail workers are faced with “constant harassment”.

Speaking on RTÉ News, he gave examples of staff members having to deal with passengers being abusive, openly taking drugs, drug dealing in some cases, sexual assaults, and threats of violence.

Mr O’Leary said it was well known that the Cork-Dublin line has a variety of anti-social behaviour or crime issues, and called for a dedicated transport policing division to tackle the anti-social behaviour, and the verbal and physical assaults on staff and customers that are taking place on a daily basis.

There have been many reports in the media about random attacks on people going about their normal work. Deliveroo guys being chased on their bicycles and beaten up. People being assaulted on their way home from a night out, such as happened to Irish Olympian Jack Woolley who was left battered and bloodied on the side of the street for no reason.

I detect a growing sense of fearlessness among certain elements of society who aren’t concerned about the potential consequences of their actions, and it’s almost as if they feel they are above the law. 

They reckon they are untouchable and the lack of garda visibility on the streets today isn’t helping. In my opinion there’s no deterrent, but garda management doesn’t agree.

Assistant Commissioner Ann Marie Cagney said lack of resources isn’t an issue, but she would welcome more resources which would allow her to maximise her capacity to provide reassurance around her policing response in Dublin.

She is happy with the garda response to the city’s problems and bases her resources on data analysis and temporal analysis but also listens to what the community is saying.

I don’t understand that, if she is really engaging with and listening to the public, she should recognise that something isn’t adding up. People are constantly complaining about the lack of garda presence in their community and this lack of engagement is contributing to the general lawlessness.

Station closures, a new work roster and large-scale civilianisation were supposed to ensure a greater visibility of gardaí on our streets, according to the then Minister for Justice, Frances Fitzgerald. She said closing garda stations was about smart policing and putting gardaí where they were needed most. Well, we’ve seen how that worked out.

As I write this, Operation Citizen has just been launched as a strategy to make the streets safer in Dublin. They say a greater visible policing presence with dedicated beats, combined with responsive foot and mountain bike patrols across the city, will enhance safety and act as a prevention to crime and anti-social behaviour.

In other words, they’re going back to basics and doing what we were doing 40 years ago before various modernisation programmes were introduced and broke everything.

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