Mick Carty: Closing so many garda stations will prove a false economy
THE announcement by Alan Shatter that 100 garda stations are to close understandably causes security concerns and disquiet in local communities in general and the elderly and vulnerable in particular.
For the manned local garda station is a symbol of the Government's interest in providing safety for the local community by controlling crime and disorder.
Moreover, it creates a sense of security for the community as well as a deterrent to criminals.
In my view it is a backward step in terms of a policing strategy.
But the question many people ask – is it a policing strategy based on evaluated research or merely another cost-cutting exercise?
As a cost-cutting exercise for reasons outlined later, it fails at the first hurdle.
Over time, various models of policing have evolved but its fundamental nature, has in the main, remained unchanged. It is recognised that the central tenet of effective policing is the forging of strong links between the police and those policed.
This is achieved by the gardai living in the community and working to create a safe and crime-free society: the community policing model.
The closing of 100 garda stations will lead to a departure from the community model of policing and the implementation of what is known as the "response" model, which works like this: a citizen observes something requiring police action, or personally requires assistance and telephones the police.
The police officer takes the call and after noting the particulars, radios the nearest patrol vehicle.
On arrival at the scene the police take whatever action is necessary, such as making an arrest, rendering medical assistance or starting investigations.
The policeman then makes out a report and sends it to a detective and resumes patrol.
The policeman has little or no interaction with this community and does not know anyone, nor is he known to many people in the community.
The original objective of the response policing model was to catch the perpetrator in the act of committing the crime.
However, numerous studies have shown that this ideal situation rarely happens due to delay in the call being made; time spent processing the call and difficulties discovering and getting to the location.
Moreover, the model has a limited, if any, preventative capacity.
While this model can be effective in urban areas it will have limited success in rural areas, unless significant resources are provided.
Vehicles fully manned with highly trained personnel will be required to carry out saturated patrolling on a 24/7 basis, as well as administrative staff to process court briefs.
So this is a costly operation.
The policing model that has served this country well over the years is one based on interaction with the community, where a relationship of mutual trust and respect is developed.
The relatively low crime levels here leads one to conclude our current rural policing model is suitable and effective. In fact, the policing philosophy that transformed New York from a crime capital to one of the safest large cities in the world is based on interaction with the community.
Nor will the closing of stations save the exchequer money – quite the opposite. State-of-the-art communications centres will be required, together with a huge modern transport fleet of fully manned modern transport.
Training will also be a critical requirement together with an appropriate command and control system. All costly to provide and maintain.
Gardai travelling in vehicles, rapidly responding from call to call does not make people feel safer and is a questionable police model for rural Ireland.
It epitomises the famous TV detective of some years ago whose catch-phrase was: "Gimme the story and gimme it fast" and "Just the facts ma'am. Just the facts." Enjoyable TV, but hardly suitable for rural Ireland.
Mick Carty is a former head of the Garda Emergency Response Unit