The ramming of a Garda vehicle in Cherry Orchard, west Dublin, has once more brought into focus anti-social behaviour on the streets of the capital. A group of teenagers and young men gathered on the estate in Ballyfermot to spectate as stolen cars were raced around the roads last Monday night. When gardaí responded, the first patrol to arrive was rammed, forcing it to retreat. The events were recorded by some of the onlookers. Many of them encouraged the ramming of the gardaí and could be heard cheering when the driver of one of the stolen cars obliged. The video footage was shared widely on social media and resulted in calls for action. The Garda responded by putting the Public Order Unit on standby and pledging additional patrols in the area.
The footage was shocking but, sadly, the problem is not new. Joyriding has remained an issue for decades and the ramming of Garda cars is, shamefully, not an infrequent occurrence. One key concern was that the drivers of the first three Garda vehicles to arrive on the scene had not undergone advanced driver training within the Garda. That means they are not permitted to activate the sirens and flashing blue lights while their vehicles are moving. Garda sources said the arrival of a patrol car, without the lights and sirens activated, is a signal to streetwise criminals the gardaí inside the vehicle are inexperienced, thus emboldening them.
Clearly basic aspects of training are not being extended to Garda members on often dangerous frontline duties. This is despite the Garda undergoing what is billed as the biggest modernisation since its foundation a century ago. There is also concern in the force that too few gardaí are now on the front lines or working in community policing, with many resources being channelled into specialist units. However, that the responses to the events of last week have centred only on criminal justice resources is telling. A reaction based on policing – rather than intensively supporting at-risk families and keeping children at school – can only ever tackle the symptoms of disadvantage rather than its causes.