'Criminals don't go to Garda stations - you want guards on streets'
Case study: Courtown Harbour, Co WexfordIN COURTOWN Harbour, Co Wexford, local shopkeeper and post office owner Declan Dunbar does not share the concerns of the Garda Representative Association about the closure of small Garda stations.
He has earned his living there all of his adult life and believes the character of the area is changing because of increasing crime.
With Courtown station open so infrequently, he says, his wish is that the larger nearby station of Gorey would continue to be adequately resourced as the Government focuses on station closures and scaling back the opening hours of others.
“Criminals don’t go to Garda stations,” says Dunbar. “So you don’t want guards in stations – you want them out and around the place: walking the streets, not in cars. They need to get to know the teenagers especially, so they don’t see the guards as the enemy. But they’ll tell you they don’t have the resources for that.”
Gone are the days of local gardaí living in the community and their names being known to everyone, he says, adding that gardaí from Gorey station, 6km away, aren’t part of the community and don’t know the area.
“They’ve lost touch,” he says.
Dunbar is fearful that an even greater distance will be formed between gardaí and communities if Garda numbers are reduced in larger stations that provide the main policing service in the regions, albeit supported by small and part-time stations.
He believes an already growing crime problem in Gorey and its environs will thrive under such conditions.
In response, the Garda pointed to a range of activities it engages in to effectively police the area and work with the public.
A statement from Garda Headquarters said its personnel based in the area engage fully with the Gorey Town joint policing committee, that there is a full time community garda in Gorey and that community Garda clinics are held in the area. A meeting between gardaí and community leaders was held as recently as last month
It also pointed to the fact that one Garda sergeant and three gardaí are assigned to Courtown and there are additional vehicle and bike patrols from Gorey. Gardaí engage in activities designed to build relationships with the community including running schools transition year and other programmes and activities for the elderly.
Courtown Harbour Garda station opens six days a week from 10am to noon. With 258 crimes recorded there last year, it is the fifth busiest Garda station – in terms of crimes recorded last year – of the 25 stations in the Wexford division.
The number of crimes recorded in Courtown Harbour has risen in recent years. For example, between 2007 and 2011 recorded crime there rose by 9 per cent. Last year the crime rate rose by 18 per cent compared to the number recorded in 2010.
Burglaries account for almost a third of all reported crime in Courtown Harbour, at 74 cases last year. This is followed by thefts, of which there were 64 cases last year, and incidents of damage to property, of which there were 37 cases in 2011. There were 33 public order offences last year. There were just eight drugs offences recorded in Courtown Harbour last year, though most drug-taking goes unreported and is not captured in official figures.
Dunbar says the area is experiencing a low but constant level of antisocial behaviour – such as flower beds being ripped up, teenagers drinking beer and throwing glass bottles around to car wing mirrors being smashed.
Many investors who bought apartments and houses during the boom are financially strapped and desperate to rent their properties.
“They’re not too fussy who they rent them to and that has brought in an element we haven’t seen before,” says Dunbar.
Some locals are too fearful to even stand up to children engaged in low-level antisocial incidents and intimidation.
Gesturing towards the small boats bobbing in the pretty harbour, Dunbar says “a gang of kids, from aged nine to 19” are involved in antisocial behaviour.
“They were down there this evening sitting on the bank, drinking bottles of beer and throwing glass bottles out on to the road. Two local lads who have boats in the harbour told me that this evening.
“I asked them, ‘Did you say anything to them?’ They said they didn’t because they’d be afraid when they went down to their boats tomorrow morning the windows would be broken.
“You just wouldn’t get that a few years ago, that kind of retaliation. We’ve inherited city culture now.
“The guards need to get back on the streets, not pull out of the place.”