Clampdown on criminals
Increased Garda numbers have lead to more arrests as force expands into new areas. Interview by David Looby
The arrival of rookie gardaí fresh from Templemore has bolstered the county's garda force, meaning more detective work, better response times and an increased presence in the four main towns, but challenges of drug dealing, sexual crime, domestic violence and burglaries remain.
As he leaves Co Wexford after a year as chief superintendent Patrick McMenamin outlines the progress made and the priorities gardaí have for the county in the months and years ahead.
How many gardaí are working in the county?
I won't give a specific answer as that changes, but there has been a 4 per cent increase in garda personnel, (11 new guards) and an additional two garda staff have been appointed.
Every station in every district: Enniscorthy, Wexford, Gorey and New Ross has benefited from the new recruitment. Of course we would like more but it's a case of sharing them out to the various stations where the need is.
Has civilianisation had an impact and lead to double up in stations?
Civilianisation is an area where we could look at deploying garda staff members in public offices (more); but that would not mean there wouldn't be a member of the gardaí there.
Rather than having two guards, you'd have a garda staff member and a garda. A lot of the stuff that is dealt with at the counter you don't need a guard for.
We haven't it up and fully running yet. We did have it here for a period in the Wexford station but it is something we will be exploring. These are all things that the Commission on the Future of Policing report last September advocated, i.e. more civilianisation to free up gardaí who are inside doing duties that they don't really need to be using their garda powers for, like being on the phones.
Is there a lack of garda patrol cars?
Vehicles could be involved in an accident or break down and then an unmarked car can be used. It doesn't mean that a car wasn't available. Certainly transport generally isn't an issue.
County Wexford has one of the highest number of Criminal Assets Bureau targets. Are local gardaí working on these investigations?
It was public knowledge the last few weeks, These are sensitive investigations. They are Criminal Assets Bureau investigations so it wouldn't be fair for me to comment.
Are you concerned about the rise in burglary, drug and sexual offences?
We are half way through this year now and generally speaking we are not in a bad place with crime. There has been a small increase in our burglaries against the background of a big decrease last year. We are still well down on where we were couple of years ago; we could be half of what they were a couple of years ago.
Concerning burglaries there would be a broad range from domestic dwellings to commercial business premises. Also we do see from time to time unattended holiday homes and caravans (getting burgled). It's often local people and not travelling gangs that are involved in them.
Drugs offence detections are up significantly, why is that?
The rise in drugs is an indication of proactive policing because they are all down to detections. Does it signify that there is more drugs out there, I don't think it does.
I know additional resources have been put into the drugs unit in Enniscorthy and in fairness it has had a massive effect in the number of seizures in both personal use and in terms of sale and supply. When you see drugs offences rising it's down to increased garda work. We were in a position with the additional resources coming on we were able to dedicate more resources to it. The more people that you employ in drugs units the more detections you will have. We have a drugs unit here also.
Outside of that every member has a role to play to detecting drugs. Going forward we are hoping to increase what we have.
What kind of drugs are your members seizing?
We are still seeing cocaine, heroin, which is still an issue, and of course cannabis. We are getting the dealers and quite a good few of the dealers we are catching are for heroin. By and large they are Irish. Some of them are selling it to feed their own habit.
Are motoring offences on the rise?
Unfortunately our road traffic fatalities are up this year. This year so far we have five fatalities and for all of last year we had four. That is a trend that is worrying. We have increased our road policing unit during the year and that will probably increase again this year. It's a challenge not only here but nationally.
How important is visibility?
We do have visibility. Getting the pro safety message out there is very important. We hear it regularly in the national and in the local media. Sadly we still see fatalities on the road.
Are people getting the message about the dangers of drink driving?
Our arrests for drink driving are pretty much the same as last year. Slightly down but slightly up in arrests for drug driving, which are still in the single digits. You are talking about (drivers on) cannabis or cocaine; that's what we are finding. The numbers for drug driving are in nowhere comparable to drunk driving.
Are you looking at increasing the presence of garda in rural areas?
We know how important it is to have local guards in the community. As a police service we are pretty unique as we do live and work within communities. The station rationalisation took place a number of years back and I don't see any plans for repeating that. It's not something we are considering at this time a we know how it has affected those communities, but the importance of getting guards into communities and a new community policing model is being developed at the moment. When we look at the Commission on the Future of Policing Report that was completed last year, the community policing model is very much to the core of that report so certainly gardaí in the community is not going to diminish.
Is the Victim Support office busy?
That office is still in place and we would hope that a protected services unit in place by early next year dealing with domestic and sexual violence. There is a commitment nationally to all divisions. We are delighted that people have the confidence to report domestic violence to us. I think domestic violence is a reality and people shouldn't have to live in those circumstances. Every situation is different; you can't say it's this factor or that factor. They all have their own ingredients and we would certainly support people to come forward and there are lots of supports there. People don't have to continue living in those circumstances. When we see an increase in domestic violence, I see that as an increase in reporting. I don't see a significant increase on last year. The message has gone out there through television ads and our own protective services unit nationally have certainly highlighted this.
Any major investigations ongoing at present?
Thankfully we have had no major investigations but with the nature of policing you never know what's around the corner.
Are there plans to increase garda numbers at Rosslare Europort?
We are currently reviewing Rosslare and we are looking at the staffing levels. We are continually looking at the staffing levels there. With Brexit we have no more knowledge today than we did a year ago unfortunately so we are planning in the unknown which is difficult to do. Even outside of Brexit I would certainly like to be in a position to put more gardaí into Rosslare. We can always do with more guards everywhere. I would be quite happy that the current arrangements down there are quite robust. In fairness to the customs staff there, they are very proactive down there as well. That (€2m) cocaine seizure last week does show that it is very difficult to bring stuff in. You never know what's coming in that's not detected. You can only see what's detected and at the structures that you have but I would be pretty happy that the structures are quite robust.