Between a ‘Rock and a hard place

D/Gardaí Colm Gregan and James Codd in discussion at the stationGda Mick Doheney questions a driver seen using his mobile phoneGda Claire Jackman and Supt. Martin McGonnell in Blackrock Garda Station

John O’Keeffe visits Frontline gardaí in Blackrock, Co. Dublin and reacquaints himself with old style local policing

Nothing much happens when it comes to policing in middle class areas. Right? Wrong. Blackrock Station’s ebullient Superintendent Martin McGonnell is not long putting me straight on this matter – and trust me when you meet a man who has served two tours in the former Yugoslavia and Somalia, you listen.

“The ‘W’ District is an affluent area,” agrees McGonnell, “but, as a result, it is accessible from the motorway network and so an easy target for criminal activity. Domestic burglary and thefts are the main crime issue – we have however succeeded in reducing, year on year, the number of burglaries and related incidents. However, as District officer, I am very conscious that statistics can be meaningless when you are a victim and I know the hugely negative and invasive effect crime has on people and communities.

On patrol with probationary Garda Mick Doheny was, as is often the case, an early eye opener. Here was a young man coming to the end of his probationary period, but, to be honest, had he told me that he had five years under his belt I would not have been surprised such was his intuitive policing skills. Our first stop was to a call out regarding stolen garden furniture – not the crime of the century perhaps but every bit as important to those who had suffered the theft. Doheny did a house to house as meticulously as he might have any enquiry. It’s the genuine interest that he showed that the public, time and time, say they appreciate about An Garda Síochána. Whether stopping a driver on his mobile phone or investigating theft, Doheny is surely the metaphor for what excellent local policing is about.

Indeed, Blackrock Station has a number of very successful initiatives which have been introduced over the past number of months – the type of work you cannot evaluate.

‘Cuppa with a Cop’ is a pilot, for example, which is a Crime Prevention Workshop for the older person, where 25 members of the Blackrock Older Persons’ Association came to Blackrock Garda Station, had tea and cake and were given a PowerPoint presentation on crime prevention. ‘Stay Safe Girls’ is another pilot in Sion Hill School, Blackrock where the Community Policing Unit give lectures on safety such as Cyber Safety, Street Smart, and crime prevention specifically targeting those girls.

‘TOGETHER’ is also a pilot project developed by the Community Policing Unit in the District, where the design of TAG (Teenagers and Gardaí) is utilised to engage with trainees in Southside Travellers. These and many other similar ongoing programmes, ensure this station is embedded in its local community.

But sadly, this station, like many others, has had to deal with very serious crime also – not least the tragic case of the murder of Elaine O’Hara by Graham Dwyer in recent years.

On the evening I went out with a Divisional Detective Unit, comprising Detective Gardaí James Codd and Colm Gregan, a young man was arrested for making a threat to someone’s life. Codd is old school – a sort of Encyclopedia Hibernia of the District he patrols. Gregan similarly has a vast level of experience. The arrestee was argumentative on arrest but was treated with courtesy and respect by these two detectives – a respect that you or I might have found difficult given the circumstances. Another car took him back to the station but even as we followed them, there was time for Codd and Gregan to attend to another call out – this time to try to locate a known offender, who had just committed a burglary. Like a lot of gardaí I meet, when out on patrol, these guys have eyes in the back of their heads – pure old school professional policing. Watch this space for both these officers.

I will leave however, the final word to McGonnell, who had this to say to all his Frontline as I left for the evening. “If I had a magic wand, I’d like to see a real appreciation for Frontline police and policing, with appropriate resourcing, both in terms of personnel and equipment.”

They couldn’t have said it better themselves Superintendent.

For full and in-depth coverage, see the current printed edition of Garda Review.

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