Monday 18 December 2017

Move to put more gardai on streets at peak times

Officers call for reform of rostering


The number of gardai available for weekend night shifts when street violence reaches its peak could be almost doubled if garda management adopted a system of rostering in use across the world, according to garda sources.

Gardai say there is an unending series of assaults at weekends and that there needs to be much greater garda visibility.

In Dublin -- and now across the country -- gardai are encountering the phenomenon where young men ask their friends to turn on their mobile phone cameras to record them, then carry out unprovoked assaults on strangers. In Dublin's Temple Bar, gardai say this is a regular occurrence. In some cases the images are then uploaded to various social networking sites on the internet.

Over the Christmas and New Year period gardai across the country dealt with many serious assaults. A Meath man in his 40s was seriously injured when he was the victim of an unprovoked attack leading to a major brawl in Dunshaughlin on New Year's Eve, in which a woman in her 30s was also hospitalised.

Gardai in Dublin city centre also dealt with several assaults resulting in people requiring hospital treatment, and files are being prepared for the DPP. Gardai across the country, however, reported that levels of violence were down on last year, and attributed this to the severe weather that kept many indoors.

Dublin gardai say that there needs to be major reform of the old rostering system, which results in the same number of uniformed gardai being on duty at 6am on a Monday morning as there are on Friday and Saturday nights, when street disorder and violence are at their peak.

Despite several attempts in recent decades to reform the system, the same "three relief" rostering arrangement, known as "The Regular" -- which was introduced in the 19th century -- is still in operation. In the busiest stations that cover Dublin city centre -- like Pearse Street and Store Street -- there are likely to be only around 20 uniformed gardai rostered for duty on weekend nights when both stations fill up with prisoners, almost all of whom are arrested for assault or disorder offences. The same number are on duty on Monday mornings with "nothing" to do, one officer said.

Gardai in these stations say that the old "regular" system is totally outdated. The old rostering system has been overhauled across the world and various arrangements put in place long ago to increase the numbers of police available for peak disorder periods.

Under one revised system widely adopted by British constabularies, called the Variable Shift Arrangement (VSA), it has been shown that the number of police available for duty at peak times is increased by 80 per cent, yet officers still get more rest time.

Under the VSA system officers receive 153 rest days on top of their holidays. They are therefore better rested and better equipped to deal with stressful public-order duties.

The "three relief" system here is blamed for playing havoc with sleep patterns and has resulted in widespread stress-related illness. After a week of lates ending at 10pm, uniformed gardai start the next shift cycle on "earlies" beginning at 6am. For gardai working in Dublin and living far outside the city some get only a few hours' sleep before returning to work. It was pointed out that this eight-hour period between shifts is also in breach of the EU Working Time Directive.

The reasons for the non-reform of the garda shift system are unclear, but reluctance to change the current system, which involves various shift allowances, appears to have resulted from a widespread desire to hold on to the allowances, sources say.

Sunday Independent

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