Cuts to Garda community policing now a ‘major concern’, head of authority says

Balance needs to be struck between specialist crime-fighting units and local communities, Policing Authority chief Elaine Byrne said

12/03/2018 Members of the Gardai at a checkpoint on Francis Street , Dublin. Photo Gareth Chaney Collins

Cuts to Garda community policing were now a major concern and a balance needed to be struck between the number of gardaí assigned to specialist units, or to emergency response, and those deployed in communities, the head of the Policing Authority Elaine Byrne has said.

“Community policing resources are often the first to be cut when resources are tight. Regrettably, that is the case again now,” she said. “Without a doubt, the most frequent feedback the authority receives throughout the country is that there is an absence or lack of community gardaí. I am deeply concerned about this.”

Ms Byrne added that over the last year the authority had met communities across the country and, whether in rural or urban areas, people complained there was a lack of informal engagement with gardaí. There were also too few gardaí working in visible positions in communities to “hear and respond” to local concerns.

“The public want more community policing. When they do not have it, it leads to negative impacts for trust, relationships, feelings of safety, and crime prevention and detection,” Ms Byrne said, making her remarks in a new Policing Authority report assessing the Garda’s performance last year.


However, she said she understands well resourced specialist units were required to tackle serious crimes, including sexual offences and other “horrific” crimes.

“These specialist units are largely unseen or ununiformed, tackling crimes that were not as prevalent in our parents’ generation such as online sexual abuse, fraud and online criminality,” she said. “However, the authority believes that a balance must be achieved between regular members that respond to calls for service, those that provide specialist services, and those that are tasked with community policing roles.”

Ms Byrne made her comments at a time the Garda’s approach to tackling frauds and other economic crimes, as well as domestic and sexual violence, have been significantly bolstered with new units and personnel over a number of years. The number of sex crimes and frauds reported to the Garda have been at all-time highs.

However, though the size of the Garda grew to a record level of 14,700 by mid-2020, numbers then declined as the Garda College, Templemore, Co Tipperary, was closed due to the pandemic. While Garda recruitment recommenced over a year ago, Garda numbers have not yet recovered and remain at about 14,000, well below the Government’s 15,000 target.

The Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors has said it believes an 18,000-strong Garda force was required. And now the Policing Authority is concerned as Garda numbers are under pressure, community policing was losing out most.

In its new evaluation report of the Garda in 2023, the authority said “considerable achievements” were made in improving the technology and information available to members of the force as they sought to provide a policing service to the public.

“An Garda Síochána has made significant strides in responding to, and supporting victims of, domestic, sexual, and gender-based violence,” the report added. “While the increases in the number of recorded offences may cause concern, the increased reporting of such offences suggests growing public confidence in policing and criminal justice responses.”

The reported added the Garda had continued to enjoy success in disrupting organised crime, including the seizure of €211 million work of drugs. However, there remained a “considerable challenge” in tackling “unethical behaviour” inside the force in a prompt fashion.

In reply to queries about Ms Byrne’s comments, Garda Headquarters said the force was “one of the world’s most trusted police services based on our ethos of community-focused policing”.

The statement further stated “all frontline gardaí perform community policing duties” and that “community policing is one of many competing priority areas” for the Garda.

On Garda numbers generally, it said as “recruitment continues and accelerates, additional Garda members will become available to be deployed to frontline and priority areas”.

Conor Lally

Conor Lally

Conor Lally is Security and Crime Editor of The Irish Times