Sunday 15 September 2019

'Intelligence-led' approach will have more success than saturation-policing


Hit: The scene of this week’s gun murder of Keith Branigan
Hit: The scene of this week’s gun murder of Keith Branigan

Declan Power

The recent fatality in Drogheda has brought the criminal activities of a number of families there to the top of the nation's attention span once again. But will this shock Irish society into the appropriate action we need to take?

As usual when this happens there is an over-fixation with what I shall call the harder-edged aspect of policing. Public representatives start calling for 24-hour surveillance and round-the-clock deployment of armed response units.

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People often look for lessons from successful policing initiatives such as the 'Saturation-Policing' tactics that were successfully applied to end the reign of a succession of gangland thugs in Limerick some years back.

However, while there are some lessons to be applied here, most of what has been uttered in the public space over the last 24 hours is well-intentioned, but totally unsustainable or likely to lead to long-term policing success.

For starters, it is incredibly expensive for the Garda to mount 24-hour surveillance operations on all the suspects allegedly connected to the current violence in Drogheda.

Secondly, just because you may have large amounts of armed-response officers available to deploy does not always make this the right strategy.

Aside from the cost, there is another factor at play here that is not often taken up by the many who are so quick to posit their solutions to our hard-pressed gardaí.

When you bring in the additional officers to provide the specialist services mentioned, they are likely to miss key elements of information or misapply force at inappropriate moments.

This is because external officers will not have had the time to develop the knowledge of 'application of a baseline', that is they do not have the luxury of time or local knowledge to build up the data bank of information required to ascertain the habits, routines and patterns of behaviour of the alleged perpetrators of violence.

Without this knowledge it become very difficult for police planners to map out where best to deploy their resources and you are back to requiring saturation-policing and specialist units just to try to keep a lid on matters.

At this point, at the strategic level in the Garda and with our political policymakers there seems to be some recognition that a few feral criminally inclined families should not be requiring the detailed application of the Garda's Emergency Response Unit or the Security and Intelligence section.

If the new plan recently unveiled by Garda Commissioner Drew Harris has one particular benefit, it should be the elimination of further Drogheda-type scenarios.

This can happen by application of the greater autonomy and decision-making process being conferred on Garda divisional commanders.

The greater responsibility at local level can allow the Garda to interrupt at an earlier stage the cycles of criminality and anti-social behaviour that ultimately result in the violence we've seen in Drogheda.

One of the key terms you may hear used in strategies to interrupt these cycles of violence is 'intelligence-led' policing.

For this to work, it must come from the ground up, not from specialists drafted in from Dublin when things have already unravelled.

In the future, it must become incumbent on divisional Garda commanders to know exactly what is happening in their backyards and take appropriate steps to identify criminal behaviours likely to ultimately yield the kind of violence we have seen in Drogheda.

But this kind of policing activity does not yield success overnight. It requires the Government and Garda leadership to invest in community policing resources that builds the kind of trust-based relationships that will motivate people to share information with their local gardaí in the early stages of problems arising.

However, for this kind of relationship to grow successfully a number of things must start to happen. Local gardaí should not flinch from applying the full rigour of the law to families who start to engage in anti-social and criminal activities.

Perhaps blind eyes have been turned in the past due to political correctness?

Also, the courts and probation services have a role to step up to in assisting gardaí.

Have the appropriate sentences always been applied in early stage situations which could have limited the fearlessness of the law that these families exhibit?

Could members of such families have been better curtailed with appropriate restraining orders based on better reporting by probation and other services?

This is a whole-of-society problem and we need to plan for it as such and not expect the Garda to continually have to run in and clear up the mess that we may all have contributed to.

Declan Power is a security consultant

Irish Independent

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