A series of checkpoints and operations under the Garda’s new Operation Thor initiative have already been conducted in the environs of Waterford city, along with Tramore and Dungarvan within the past week.
And one of the force’s highest ranking officers is confident that the operation shall turn up the heat on prominent criminal elements across the city and county.
During a media briefing on Operation Thor at Waterford Garda Station on Thursday afternoon last, Assistant Commissioner Jack Nolan said it’s incumbent that the force “let the people know what’s happening and to the let the community know what we’re trying to achieve”.
“We need to be very good at what we do, because lots of the criminals are very good at what they do as well,” he said.
“But we want to make Waterford city and county as inhospitable to those people as possible, and we make no apologies for that. We intend to pursue them, follow them, investigate them, produce the evidence and bring them before the courts. That’s our mission.”
The €5 million operation has been “up and running” since November 2nd, with its main objectives being to prevent crime and to support the victims of crime through “focused and intelligence-led operations”.
Asst Commissioner Nolan confirmed that between now and the “early New Year”, no less than 21 specific operations will be launched across the south east through Operation Thor.
“Indeed, on one day recently, there were 14 particular units out in this city and county area,” Jack Nolan commented when asked about Garda response times.
“So there are highly available and readily active unit outs there every day of the week. In saying that, crime happens but what I would like to do is prevent as much as crime as possible. One victim is one victim too many but we want to be able to give is a service that reassures people, that get Guards to the scene quickly but much more importantly, to prevent crime.”
However, as Fianna Fáil Councillor Adam Wyse pointed out last week: “Overall Garda numbers in Waterford have fallen from 307 in March 2010 to 274 in January of this year – an 11 per cent drop. I know more Garda recruitment is underway, but the reality is (that) an increased Garda presence is essential. The growing sense of isolation in communities has not been helped by the closure of Garda stations in Stradbally and Ballyduff (Upper).”
So how, with that in mind, can Operation Thor land some heavy blows to the criminal fraternity when Garda numbers have been so significantly reduced in Waterford over the past five years?
Said Asst Commissioner Nolan: “There’s no doubt that numbers have fallen in areas like Waterford. That’s a result of natural attrition, retirements, promotions and transfers. But in focused operations like those ongoing today, supported by the kind of overtime that the Government has made available, that backfills those particular operations.”
When asked if there was any prospect of some closed rural Garda stations being re-opened even on a limited basis, Jack Nolan stated: “There are 565 Garda stations in Ireland. On pro-rata basis, that’s way in excess of most other western or industrial countries. The number of Garda stations closed in 2012 and 2013 was 139 and in all reality, these were very small, minor stations that were rarely used…by and large, I think we’re able to serve communities from adjoining stations. I don’t know what the future will bring, but I don’t see any immediate plans to re-open Garda stations.”
Meanwhile, Supt Delaney said that a November 9th meeting with city traders, which focused on crime prevention, had proven most worthwhile, adding that this new ‘workshop’ will convene again “in two to three months’ time” to discuss ongoing issues, including CCTV standards and ‘sneak thieves’.
He added: “It’s a partnership approach. The Guards will continue to carry out our very strong enforcement strategy; we’ve a very strong tradition in Waterford city – our burglary detection rates are higher than most other locations of comparable size within the State. But the partnership approach is key to this.
“We work very closely with local communities and with the retail sector, the Chamber of Commerce and the various retail organisations, to try and reduce the number of burglaries within the city, and that’s an ongoing process…it’s a great form of communication between the public and ourselves…and it’s really important that members of the public buy into this. The more eyes we have out there, the more chance we have of catching more burglars.”