Waterford Gardaí have made considerable gains over the past year in countering drug dealers and burglars, gains that are welcome and worth noting according to one of the south east’s most prominent officers.
Speaking to The Munster Express, Superintendent Chris Delaney stressed that the force “does not let things drift”, citing the reduction in burglaries in Waterford and the increase in jail sentences for Section 15 (Misuse of Drugs Act) offences as proof of their labour.
“Our levels of detection, across a range of offences, have increased, and I think the public can take some comfort from that,” said Supt Delaney.
“And it is incumbent that An Garda Síochána remains vigilant at all times in relation to the gamut of criminal activity, and when it comes to the detection of drug dealing in the city, including heroin, along with burglaries, we have had some welcome success on both fronts over the past year and we are determined that that remains the case.”
Saluting the “excellent work” of Sergeant Keith Goff and the Drugs Unit at Waterford Garda Station, Supt Delaney said the force was “acutely aware” that “certain groups of people are targeting Waterford in rotational cycles” with respect to drug dealing.
“Establishing such movements is something which takes time to monitor, record and ascertain but it’s also something we have to be prudent about when commenting to the media for operational reasons,” he said.
“It is important to stress that Waterford Gardaí, and this of course has long been the case, has targeted heroin dealers operating in the city and county, and will continue to do so.
“We have made several considerable seizures over the past year, which were the result of several extensive, long-term operations, and while there was a spike in (drug-related) activity at the end of July and the start of August, we feel we are making progress in relation to drug dealing and drug-related activity.”
Supt Delaney stated that “a lot of work has been done in the city centre over the past two to three weeks”, specifically in relation to heroin. “We don’t have our necks in the sand on this or on any other issue,” he continued.
“Liaising with local communities and city centre retailers has had a positive impact which has assisted us in several operations, and, as always, we would request the public to contact us (on 051-305300) or via the Confidential Line (1800-666-111) should they have information which they feel can assist us in the course of any of our operations.”
It’s worth noting that the level of burglaries in Waterford is down by between five and six per cent to date this year when compared to 2014 figures.
And when one recalls that Supt Delaney told Waterford’s Joint Policing Committee (JPC) in March 2013 that burglaries had increased by 21 per cent, then the force appears to making positive inroads on that front.
Incidentally, up to 70 per cent of all burglars identified in the Waterford Division during 2012 had a drug habit, with heroin dependency widely considered as the largest motivating factor behind such crimes.
Additional support has also been made available to Waterford Gardaí in recent months, with the armed Regional Support Unit, in a distinctive Volvo car, proving a visible presence on the city’s streets.
Said Supt Delaney: “The Regional Support Unit has been of considerable assistance in several operations and I believe their visibility in Waterford over the past year has been welcomed by the general public, and that’s a perception that’s been mentioned to me on several occasions. Added to that, the Waterford Division has been selected to receive additional officers, which is a welcome development that can only serve to improve our existing operational levels”, he continued.
Specific staffing levels within any Garda Division, be it in an overall sense or on a unit by unit breakdown, are not commented upon to the media by the relevant Superintendents.
And it’s been widely conceded by political representatives of various hues in Waterford that the greatest inhibitor the force faces in response to a range of crimes is its lack of numbers, plainly and simply.
What is known, as reported by the Irish Examiner on April 27th, is that the number of station-based Gardaí fell by over 300 in 2014 “as the size of the force fell to its lowest level in a decade”.
At the end of 2014, there were 10,976 Gardaí working across the force’s 563 stations, the first time the staffing level had dropped below the 11,000 mark since 2006.
The first 100 of 300 trainee Gardaí graduated from the Garda College in mid-April (the first new recruits since 2009) and the Government has since committed to recruiting a further 250 trainees into Templemore this year.
“Taking account of crime trends and policing priorities, they (the new recruits) will be assigned appropriately,” she said.
Addressing the Dáil on July 7th, Minister Fitzgerald stated that Garda personnel strength, as of May 31st, stood at 12,772, while Fianna Fáil Niall Collins, during the same debate, pointed out that 1,498 members of the force are eligible for retirement this year alone.
Regarding civilian members of the force, Minister Frances Fitzgerald (speaking on July 1st), said that between December 2007 and April 30th last, such numbers had risen from 1,688 to 2,032.
Such staff are engaged in a range of management, administrative, technical and operational duties.
With the Garda Reserve being deployed to support full-time officers during events including the Saint Patrick’s Day Parade and Spraoi, Supt Delaney admitted that an increased level of community policing would also be welcome – in due course.
“I met with members of several community groups in July, where we spoke about community policing and how successful it has proven in the recent parts in several areas of the city, including Ballybeg, Larchville and Lisduggan,” he said.
“And while it would be welcome to see that service restored to the extent that it has operated at previously – and that would be my hope for the future – there has to be a recognition that, unfortunately, we cannot have a Garda on every street corner in Waterford.
“Community policing works – and that’s well established. In a city centre context, where we now have a specific officer deployed, traders will tell you that it’s been very beneficial to have a Garda nearby and readily available to respond to any concerns they may have.”
The officer in question, whose mobile phone number is on hand with city centre traders, has proven a welcome addition, and his intelligence gathering has proven invaluable with respect to wider operations being conducted by the force.
“The good work which our officers are doing throughout Waterford can never be highlighted enough,” Supt Delaney declared.