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Sunday 8 December 2019

Community policing plan to get roll-out in Dublin city

Drug dealers cleared from O'Connell Street as pilot door-to-door scheme pays off for gardai

Richard Guiney, CEO of Dublin City Business Improvement District
Richard Guiney, CEO of Dublin City Business Improvement District

Jim Cusack

A NEW, but distinctly traditional, garda initiative is taking policing literally to people's front doors in central Dublin and is now expected to be rolled out across the city.

The Small Area Policing (SAP) plan was introduced after nearly three years of planning and dialogue with the public under the direction of the chief superintendent in charge of the North Central Garda Division, Pat Leahy.

Community gardai have each been allocated small areas of the division and told to go door-to-door to ask people what they want from policing. It began two months ago. The result has been a 200-fold "boom" in contact from the public and gardai. Chief Supt Leahy has made individual gardai responsible for their areas and directed them to call to each home and business.

As well as a highly positive response from householders, retailers in the city centre are also reporting an upturn in trade as increased policing has cleared the O'Connell Street area of street drug dealers and the groups of addicts.

Local TD and Minister for Europe, Pascal Donohoe, told the Sunday Independent: "People are saying it has made a big difference already. I would hope that it would be copied across the country. I think it is a brilliant initiative providing the community with individual contact with gardai."

The chair of the Dublin Joint Policing Committee and Fianna Fail candidate in the European election, Councillor Mary Fitzpatrick, said: "I am a big supporter of this project. It is the final phase of a series of good initiatives and assigning gardai to a couple of hundred houses is the way forward. It needs to be rolled out across the city."

The long-serving Independent councillor for the north inner city, Christy Burke, also welcomed Chief Supt Leahy's initiative: "He is very passionate about it. He made a commitment to us that he would make his officers accountable to him for its success.

"I was at the roll out for the East Wall and it was very positive. The people will know their guards and the guards will know their people. It is very encouraging."

As part of the initiative Chief Supt Leahy launched Operation Spire in the north city centre shopping area which had been beset by drug dealers mainly selling prescription pain killers as substitutes for heroin. Thousands of addicts were moving around O'Connell Street every day buying and selling drugs.

Gardai began arresting the dealers in large numbers and carried out thousands of stop-and-searches until the dealers mainly decided within a month to leave the Store Street district. They mainly congregate now further up the south side of the Liffey.

Richard Guiney of Dublin City Business Improvement District said: "The change for the better happened far quicker than I imagined. Within a month we were getting positive feedback from our members. The retailers reported increased dwell-time. That is the time people spending looking at windows.

"With increased dwell-time you get more people coming in and buying. And, more money in tills makes our members very happy."

Under the initiative Chief Supt Leahy has carved his division into 12 sectors each with four "bite-size" areas under the direct management of 144 gardai, 10 sergeants and six inspectors. Gardai began calling door to door in January.

He told the Sunday Independent: "We are asking people how we can help improve the quality of their lives. Our gardai are getting to know everyone in their bite-size areas.

"For instance, people in the North Wall had concerns about kids throwing stones at their houses from the railway line. I got on to Iarnrod Eireann and within 24 hours they had an engineer out and they put up nets which sorted the problem. We had an 89-year-old woman who had her purse stolen. She had difficulties in even writing letters so the staff in the Community Policing Office were able to organise replacements for her medical card, her social services card and her bus pass."

Sunday Independent

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