Drug-related intimidation is to some extent seen as a “normalised dispute resolution mechanism” in parts of Dublin city, an online policing conference has heard.
The webinar, on how different organisations can support housing associations and other organisations to tackle organised crime, heard from a number of Irish and UK speakers, including principal officer Rose Sweeney, who heads the Garda National Community Engagement Bureau, and Ana Liffey Drug Project CEO, Tony Duffin.
Mr Duffin told the seminar that drug-related intimidation was acute in Dublin city’s north-east area, which had a very high rate of deprivation.
He said that there was an initiative from Ana Liffey aimed at intervention in this area, beginning in September 2019 and continuing through to January 2021.
“Uptake was slow despite repeated and consistent efforts to promote the service,” he said, adding that they averaged four or five referrals a month.
He said this highlighted the difficulty in engaging with people around drug-related intimidation as people are often frightened and they would sometimes rather engage with services they were already in contact with.
“Clients tended to be at the end of their tether when they came to us,” he said.
A person wouldn’t have to be directly involved in drug markets to become a victim of the intimidation, he said.
“You could be brought into this, and it might have nothing to do with you,” he said. “An innocent conversation with a garda on the street can be enough.”
He said a number of issues needed to be addressed, including the empowerment of local residents and the support of policing in the local community.
Ms Sweeney said that while her role focuses on community engagement, she works closely with other garda divisions.
She said that when the gardaí are working with statutory agencies or charities working in the community, both sides need to be aware of what the other is doing and what the role of the gardaí is.
Ms Sweeney said her focus is on prevention and engaging with the community, and placed an emphasis on “policing by partnership”.
She cited examples of where the An Garda Síochána has worked with other organisations.
In one situation, there had been a number of complaints of anti-social behaviour and drug-related incidents on a wasteground area. Gardaí partnered with the local authority, a nearby college, and residents to reclaim the land.
Over 120 allotments were set up on the wasteground, gardaí patrolled the area and the college established horticultural courses for people to learn to take care of the allotments.
She said the results of this were fewer callouts and a strong community engagement with the land.
Dublin city Lord Mayor Alison Gilliland told the webinar that it’s important that information is shared across jurisdictions to establish best practice and ensure “all pieces of the investigative jigsaw are identified”.
“This could range from a housing officer getting the feeling that something’s not right when visiting a block of flats to a member of the National Crime Agency receiving a tip-off about a large shipment of drugs coming in from elsewhere in Europe,” she said.