Launching ‘reassurance bombs’ from The Bridewell

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Station Watch:

A Bridewell was originally a ‘prison or reform school of petty offenders.’ Editor, John O’Keeffe went to visit the Bridewell Garda Station in Dublin to see what a modern ‘Bridewell’ looks like

The Central Bridewell, in Dublin, a prison for minor offenders, was built to accommodate 130 prisoners in 1901. The Central Bridewell was then renamed Bridewell Garda Station following the establishment of the Irish Free State. The Station’s translated motto is, ‘Let justice be done though the heavens fall.’ Having spent a day with men and women here, I can tell this is not just a redundant Latin maxim.

It’s boss, Superintendent Ann Markey advises me that the Bridewell covers a small geographical district – one of the smallest in the country. In urban areas of course small does not mean quiet, however, and there are a considerable number of areas within the district which require different types of policing.

“There were huge issues in the area of Ormond Quay,” for example, says Markey. “Many users are purchasing drugs in and around the vicinity of the North and South Quays and then frequenting the North Quays to take the drugs in the laneways in and around the area of Ormond Quay.” But the district has changed considerably over the last 20 years with increases in apartments and student accommodation, the Criminal Courts of Justice, the building of the DIT College Campus in Grange Gorman and the modernisation of Smithfield.

Walking around the district with Community Garda Brendan Doyle reminded me of one simple truth about policing wherever you are – know your clients. In this regard Doyle seems to have an uncanny knowledge of the area and its people – notwithstanding his short time in this particular unit. While the Bridewell will always have a variety of crimes occurring, with no one particular crime being the main issue – illegal drugs always seem to rear their ugly head.

Certain drug gang targets have to be monitored 24 hours a day, putting a drain on resources. When I met Gardaí Conor Whelan and Sonja Mooney on such a duty, they didn’t complain however; the day is warm and they know they are there to protect not just the potential target and their family but also everyone in the neighbourhood. Deterrence is key in the war against drugs in Dublin’s North Inner City and Whelan and Mooney know this better than most.

Their colleagues in plain clothes know this equally well too as I found out when I went out with Detective Garda Timothy O’Sullivan on patrol in the area. We called into a family who had been threatened in the past – no one seems immune to the scourge of the drug culture it would seem. His rapport with them was unrivalled. Don’t believe all you read. Frontline gardaí have huge respect – especially in areas where you least expect it.

The courts are of course a very important area of work for all gardaí in the Bridwell and they have dedicated men and women for this task. I met up with the Unit’s skipper on the day, Sergeant Sheryl O’Dwyer and Gardaí Lisa Martin, Michael McGrath and Tommy Byrne, who work under her supervision – and they couldn’t praise her more highly. This was typical of the units and gardaí I met on the day. All working together for a common goal. Straight out of management speak it might seem but here, its applied universally.

Unquestionably I found a wonderful team spirit in the Bridewell and the synergy between all units in the station was palpable. They have approximately 70% of staff who have less than three years’ service, which poses challenges for the sergeants on the ground. However, as Markey attests, the Bridewell still provides the Frontline member with a great mixture of experience to provide them with a solid learning platform.

“I think one of the best services we provide at the Bridewell is the personal touch,” says Markey. Where we find that an area has experienced a number of crimes or issues over a period, we launch what I call the ‘reassurance bomb’ in the area. It is in stages, where we complete house to house call backs on one day engaging with the business and residence in the affected area. Then a checkpoint will be carried out a number of days later. Following on from that patrols takes place, where the official car will park up in the area and members alight and walk in the area for 10 minutes. This will have the effect for the community of reassurance and studies show that nothing will happen for two hours after such a patrol.”

‘Reassurance bomb’ – I like that. This obviously isn’t Superintendent Markey’s first time around the policing block – and it shows, as she leads a dedicated Frontline like few others.

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

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