Tuesday 16 January 2018

Cutbacks, assaults and no money: I became a garda thinking I could change the world – how wrong I was

In this anonymous blog, a frontline garda tells of terrifying physical attacks, financial hardships, and dealing with poor equipment due to cutbacks

This job I joined all those years ago has changed drastically over the last few years. I joined An Garda Siochana with a view to making a difference to people’s lives, thinking I was going to save the world, how wrong I was.

I think my bubble burst the first day I sat into a patrol car and was told to watch where I put my feet as there was a hole in the patrol car floor.

Surely this wasn’t meant to happen after all I watched all the police programmes from the US and the UK and they had state of the art equipment and cars. Whereas as a member of An Garda Siochana I was driving around in clapped out Ford Focuses and Fiestas and, if I was lucky, a Mondeo. I think I was too naive at the time and accepted this as the norm.

In the station I was in I was thankful I had a lot of more experienced Gardai around me to guide me and help me with any queries I had in relation to court or powers to arrest someone.

I can still remember my first arrest and trip to court - after all they never leave you.

But in today’s Garda force this is no longer the norm, a lot of the senior, more experienced members have retired, leaving a generation of Gardai without their knowledge. In 10 years I’ve a feeling the majority of the force will be under 30 and inexperienced.

The longer I was in the job the more I saw what it was really about - members and supervisors at times more concerned about covering their backsides doing paperwork then getting out and about doing proper police work.

The whole respect for the Gardai I thought was there wasn’t.

I can’t remember the first time I witnessed an assault on a member or when I was personally assaulted. But so far in my career I’ve had to get one part of my body totally rebuilt including having to get all the nerves around it blocked, leaving me with no feeling in that part of my body.

I’ve had people spit at me, kick, punch and headbutt me, I’ve been through six months of sheer hell after getting pricked with a dirty needle during the course of searching somebody.

I would love to know who gives any person the permission to assault a member of, not only An Garda Siochana, but also any other frontline staff member.

In my opinion the assaults on Gardai are getting worse and worse because people don’t care whether it not if they hurt or assault members any more. What people don’t hear about is the mental anguish members go through while recovering from assaults or any other injury on duty. Also, the punishment handed out in court is ridiculous but that’s a blog for another day.

The job has changed so much in the last few years. For me one of the biggest changes has being the financial aspect of it. Long gone are the days of unlimited overtime, now you’re lucky to see a few hours in a year and those that are available are being used up to cover Haddington Road hours.

I’ve heard reports of members having to go to their parents for financial support or to the St Vincent de Paul Society to put food on the table, to have fuel to light their fires or to get clothes to cloth their children.

Before people give out and say, sure don’t Gardai all live in big houses - that may be the fact but people don’t know what goes on behind closed doors. Yes, a lot of Gardai got greedy during the good times but it didn’t help when a certain mortgage lender asked you how much you wanted when you enquired about a mortgage.

I know I was greedy but I’m now left with a house I can’t afford to pay off on serious negative equity, and in arrears. I can hear the violins already. I know that this isn’t the case for just Gardai but for nearly everyone in the country.

But I’m writing this from a Garda’s perspective. Our finances aren’t helped by successive governments taxing the hilt out of frontline staff. Personally I think the Government aren’t doing enough to help low to middle-class earners.

They’re lining the pockets of their contributors, the high earners. It’s depressing for a lot of Gardai to work 60 hours in six days to get a pittance in their pay packet each week where someone who’s unemployed and has never worked a day in their lives earn more from the State.

I think to curb this the Government should try the American system which entails cutting a person off welfare if they’re on it for more than two years.

I alluded to the equipment part of the job earlier on. For those who don’t know, Gardai drive family saloon cars day in day out. Many of these are clapped out and not fit for the job they’re meant to do.

I heard recently that our next fleet of cars are going to be Hyundais. I can’t wait to drive those.

I think that money should be diverted from the bottomless repair of patrol car fund to properly training members and equipping them with proper and life-saving equipment, proper police special patrol cars and proper firearms.

I know it seems I’ve a problem with management but in reality I don’t. I think their hands are tied to a certain extent but I do feel that they could liaise and speak to members on the ground about what we need. I think the longer they’re office-bound the more they forget what frontline policing is all about.

There is a lot of frustrations out there from frontline staff about equipment, about the lack of resources, the lack of support and advice when needed. The closure of Garda stations isn’t helping the already low morale within the force.

You only have to look at what happened in the representative body conferences this year to see the anger within the force. It’s going to take a long time in my opinion for morale to pick up again but tackling and listening to the issues of frontline Gardai will go a long way to boosting morale.

I think that, as much as the job has changed since I joined the force, I’ve a feeling it’s going to change a whole lot more before I retire.

Read more of the blog from the garda, who uses the name Grumpy Mule or follow him on Twitter

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