Making policing smarter
There has been an unfortunate tendency to link the closure of Garda stations with the murder of Garda Adrian Donohoe and with violent rural burglaries. The inconvenient fact that those crimes took place while the affected stations were operational is ignored. Instead, public fears are whipped up; pressure is heaped on politicians and it becomes increasingly difficult to secure necessary change within the Garda Síochána. In the background, threatened disruption over Garda allowances and working conditions contributes to public concern.
Minister for Justice Alan Shatter is not especially popular with his colleagues in Leinster House. But few would question his ability or his courage in dealing with vested interests, be they on the bench, in the Law Library or within the Garda. Failures of nerve by previous governments saw growing Garda indiscipline being ignored, until the Morris tribunal shouted stop. Administrative and disciplinary arrangements were then put in place, along with a Garda Ombudsman Commission and a Garda Inspectorate.
Ireland’s colonial past explains its exceptional number of police stations. They operated as the eyes and ears of Dublin Castle in every town and village. The emergence of new technology and methods of transport over recent decades has not, however, brought about necessary rationalisation. Instead, peripheral stations were allowed to decay while gardaí complained about working conditions. Colm McCarthy proposed the closure of 350 stations to the last government on the grounds that they were unnecessary, lacked technology and would require costly refurbishment. The recommendation was ignored. Now, Mr Shatter has taken on board the need for closures and linked it to better, smarter policing. He has evidence on his side.
Three years ago, Kathleen O’Toole of the Garda Inspectorate made 27 recommendations on how limited manpower and resources could be more effectively used. Some established procedures were condemned as wasteful. In spite of all that, change has been painfully slow. Some months ago, the Garda Inspectorate reported that the closure of 39 stations and reduced opening hours at 10 others had released nearly 200 gardaí for other duties in those districts. Not all would leave administrative duties, but many would take a more active policing role.
As was suggested in this newspaper by Conor Brady, a fundamental review of the role of the Garda Síochána is urgently needed. The last independent analysis took place more than 40 years ago. Gardaí would benefit from a clear exposition of the job they may be expected to do, and how they are to be organised, equipped and deployed in doing it backed by the best modern and community policing structures.