Reducing drug deaths has been made a national priority for An Garda Síochána under a new operation similar to the high-profile crackdown on burglaries.
The campaign, codenamed Operation Tara, is being driven from the top of the organisation and involves a range of initiatives:
- Dedicated drug units in each of the divisions;
- Involvement of regular garda units and community gardaí in combatting drug dealing in communities;
- National coordination of the operation under Special Crime Operations, headed by assistant commissioner John O'Driscoll;
- Oversight of divisional drug units by the Garda National Drugs and Organised Crime Bureau (DOCB)
- A reinvigorated structure to help address drug-related intimidation of users and their families by gangs;
- Awareness campaign to educate people on drugs and the drug trade
The national prioritisation given to reducing drug-related deaths comes on the back of rising fatalities, growing treatment figures and the spread of drug-related violence outside the cities, as seen in Drogheda and Longford.
There have also been several community-based research projects which have detailed the lure of the drugs trade for young people and children, the control gangs have on certain communities and the need for a greater local policing response and youth interventions.
It has been reported in the Sunday Times that Garda Commissioner Drew Harris has written to the country's chief superintendents instructing them to set up divisional drug units.
Operation Tara is due to start in April and will be broken down into different phases.
The organisation has traditionally been based on a district model and many divisions had district drug units, while some rural divisions did not have any full-time drug units at all.
Gardaí have identified a lack of consistency in how gardaí are policing the drugs trade at a local level. The divisional drug units, as well as reporting to their local chief superintendent, will feed back into DOCB.
With the implementation of the new operating model, being rolled out by Commissioner Harris, policing services are being delivered on a divisional basis – with specialist units operating across the entire divisions.
The cuts in garda numbers under austerity depleted local drug units and in some cases removed them from existence.
Under Operation Tara, divisional drug units will combat local drug gangs and dealing and will tie-in more with divisional asset profilers, trained by the Criminal Asset Bureau.
Crucially, the operation will also see a more formal and enhanced role for regular units and community gardaí in addressing local drug dealing and associated problems on the ground.
Gardaí at different ranks have acknowledged that, because of austerity, the presence of gardaí on the ground in communities most affected by drug dealing, much of it involving juveniles, has been lacking.
DOCB will continue its close cooperation with CAB in terms of targeting national and international trafficking gangs.
Special Crime Operations will coordinate and supervise the operation, as it does with Operation Thor. The anti-burglary initiative, which Operation Tara is being modelled on, is considered to have had success in tackling burglary gangs.