Garda reserve – a good start

There’s a fatal flaw in the logic of why the new Garda Reserve is being introduced. The original reason for the Reserve was to bring the Gardai closer to the communities they serve.

Now it transpires that Garda Reservists will not be allowed to serve in their own communities.

So that’s a bad start. 

But it’s ok if the Reserve is seen as a starting point. Because there is a huge amount of good work that a Garda Reserve force could do.

Last February saw the launch of the report of the Lord Mayor’s Commission on Crime and Policing. This report has some very interesting things to say about policing in Dublin.

One of the most intriguing things it has to say is that increased Garda numbers is not necessarily the best way to fight crime.

International research shows that for every extra 10 police officers, only one officer might be available at any one time to patrol the streets. This means that many of the new Garda Reservists might be better allocated to communities and that they should act as a liaison with the full-time Gardai. In Holland there has be some success with such ‘Civic Wardens’.

The Commission was concerned with all crime of course, but particularly about ‘quality of life’ crime such as anti-social behaviour, vandalism, local intimidation and so on. It received a lot of submissions on these areas of crime that were making making life miserable in local communities.

The Commission concluded that simply having more uniforms around was not the answer. Often local people wanted the gardai to talk to them and to listen. The report said that many of the best gardai worked well because they formed personal relationships with community leaders. These gardai took an interest in the community over and above their call of duty.

Some submissions said that their was intense frustration that these gardai would then be moved to other duties without regard to the community work they were doing. The Commission says these community garda are vital and that their presence in any community should be guaranteed for two years. I would have thought that would be a minimum. That such a short period of time is considered good shows how badly Dublin has fared re community gardai compared to rural areas.

The Report points out that the Neighbourhood Watch schemes are non-existent in working-class areas, partly because of a poor relationship between the guards and local people. 

Research cited by the Commission says that Garda policing in working-class areas is more aggressive than in middle-class districts. This also points to the need for a presence in the community.

If the Garda Reserve is seen as a new departure in getting local communities to help police their own areas and in ensuring that there is full support for local policing, then they can do a huge amount to improve the quality of life in estates around Dublin.

The critical point is that it must empower local people to overcome the hoods and the thugs. The Garda Reserve must be flexible and allowed to grow into a genuine community response to crime.