Assistant Commissioner Pat Leahy
Changing An Garda Síochána to a community orientated police service is “not going to happen” unless there is a change of mindset among senior officers, a top Garda has warned.
Assistant Commissioner Pat Leahy said the target for local garda commanders should not be is crime up or down but “community safety”.
He said community policing “took a hammering” during austerity and said gardaí were forced to almost withdraw from communities, but now needed to “go back into communities and recover that space”.
The top police officer for Dublin was speaking at the publication of a new report which detailed the “corrosive, damaging and inter-generational impact on communities” caused by gangs and the drugs trade, which was “endemic” across certain areas of Dublin South Central and elsewhere in the country.
The research, Building Resilient Communities, which was detailed in yesterday’s Irish Examiner, highlighted how children as young as 10 were being groomed into criminal networks and how young teenagers were aspiring to have the lifestyle and status of local drug lieutenants.
Johnny Connolly, University of Limerick academic and lead author of the report, said society must change the reality for these communities and argued that communities have “a right to be safe” and that parents in those areas have a “right to raise their kids in safety”.
Launching the report, Ass Comm Leahy said the key finding of the Policing Commission, published in September 2018, was that An Garda Síochána was not the community police service it thought it was.
“The Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland called us out,” he said. “It said neither your structures nor your behaviours reflect the view you have of yourselves as a community policing organisation. You know for me personally that was a slap in the face.”
He said the thought the finding had “gone over a lot of heads” but that the organisation had to take it on board, adding: “We have to wake up to that.”
He said: “If senior management do not have a change of mindset and are not totally committed to it, it is not going to happen – it’s as simple as that.”
He said the focus on recent years had been on the gangland violence and the Kinahan-Hutch feud. He said the last three years were “probably the best three years tackling that level of gangland-orientated crime”.
He said a lot of criminals in the Dublin South Central area were “in prison or have left the country and can’t come home”.
He said that, like almost all police forces, the Gardaí adopted a “traditional approach” to policing and that its priorities around crimes, crime trends, criminals and arrests – which were also pushed by oversight and regulatory bodies – were not the same priorities of communities.
“Communities don’t look at it like that, they look at quality of life. The target of gardaí should be community safety.”
He said the traditional police model had to be set aside, but said resources, and garda units like task forces, must follow the focus towards community policing.
He pointed to successes in Darndale, north Dublin, where community policing had adopted a “hard” approach – arrests, seizures and checkpoints – in a bid to reassure the community, and a “softer” approach involving interaction and activities for young people.
“Community policing took a battering during austerity, we kinda were withdrawn from communities,” he said. “Now we have to take it back, go back into communities, recover that space, shift the balance of power and build relationships.”
He said that if gardai can build up trust and relationships with the community, people will “as a consequence tell you what they want to tell you to keep their kids safe”.
He said the Garda National Framework for Community Policing had the potential to address the issues raised by the Policing Commission and Dr Connolly’s research – but said only if the “philosophy and culture” of senior gardaí changed.
He also said the new divisional policing model – in which at least one superintendent will be specifically in charge of community engagement – also had potential.
Also speaking at the event, Oonagh McPhillips, deputy general secretary of the Department of Justice said the Policing Commission was “revolutionary” in that it made community safety a “shared responsibility” between gardaí and other agencies.
She said new legislation would make that a reality.
Dr Connolly, who was assisted in his research by Jane Mulcahy of University College Cork, said a key finding was that “communities also have rights”, adding that rights were not just an issue for people accused of crimes.
“Communities have a right to be safe. Parents have a right to raise their kids in safety. These rights don’t often enter the debate, but communities are entitled to community safety.”
He said State agencies must be obliged to deliver on these rights for communities.
Peter Dorman, chairman of the Dublin South Central four local policing fora, which commissioned the research, said the report made a number of recommendations:
- Community Impact Statements
- Intensive inter-agency response to the organisers/bosses of the criminal networks
- Youth work intervention towards the street dealers
- Rescue plan for vulnerable children at risk of being groomed into the networks
- Community Safety Teams to lead out on the initiatives
- Joint Policing Committees to work closely with local policing fora