Does Smithfield Need More Policing or More Social Workers?

There’s been more “antisocial behaviour” in Smithfield and Stoneybatter recently – and it’s affecting shops in the area, said Greg Rouse, at the end of last year.

Shoplifting, loitering, public drinking, and assaults all seemed on the rise, said Rouse, the chair of the Smithfield and Stoneybatter Business Association.

He told councillors and gardaí at December’s meeting of the Central Area Joint Policing Committee (JPC) at City Hall that businesses wanted more resources for the Bridewell Garda Station, quicker response times from Gardaí there, minimum pricing on alcohol products and a no-tolerance measure from Gardaí in dealing with drugs, alcohol and crime.

But Gardaí, some councillors, and some of those who work with people with addictions say the issue won’t be solved by tougher policing alone.

Rather than a lack of policing, many of the social problems in the area are down to the inadequate provision of addiction services, said independent Councillor Christy Burke.

The government has “failed miserably in relation to putting in facilities for people with drugs and drink problems,” he said.

The police still need to police, says Dawn Russell, head of services at the Ana Liffey Drug Project, but traditional policing will not work on a group that has nothing left to lose.

Instead, some argue for more approaches like those of the Assertive Case Management Team (ACMT), a multi-agency project which draws together those at Ana Liffey, An Garda Síochána, the Health Service Executive and Dublin City Council.

A Mixed Picture

On Manor Street on a misty grey Friday morning in late December, Stoneybatter was eerily quiet, despite Christmas just being around the corner.

At McFadden’s Pharmacy, at the Cabra end of Manor Street, owner Dave McFadden says they’ve had no issue with antisocial behaviour.

The “place has improved greatly in the past few years”, he says. Antisocial behaviour could be an issue further up, though, he says.

A little bit further down, across the road from McFadden Pharmacy is Java Bay. Two elderly customers are sitting at the window while John Watson drops down their breakfast.

“I’m in here all day and I rarely see anything,” says Watson, wondering if it may be a nighttime issue.

Walking to Smithfield, the streets remain quiet. It’s beginning to get windy and Storm Deirdre is due to hit in a few hours.

Down further however, at the corner of Smithfield Square, beside the Luas track, a man at the shop Betty Bojangles, who would give his name only as “Charlie Bojangles”, says that over the past year and a half, antisocial behaviour has got worse.

He says there have been a continuous problems with robberies, abuse being shouted at him when he stands outside for a cigarette and general drug use in the area.

The biggest problem, he says, is the lack of gardaí on patrol in the area and the slow response time. “I can’t believe we’re between two courthouses and there’s no police,” he says.

“This summer was desperate,” he says. “Cops were never around and everytime we rang the Gardaí they’d come a week later.”

Greg Rouse said similar things during the Central Area JPC meeting, referencing a number of business owners who said they’d given up calling the Gardaí about antisocial behaviour.

More than a Policing Issue

At last month’s Central Area JPC meeting, Garda Chief Superintendent Sean Ward said that while there are issues in Smithfield, 70 new gardaí already had been added to the Gardaí’s North Central division earlier in 2018, and a further 17 were added in December. (As of the end of August, there had been 646.)

But “it is not An Garda Síochana’s issue alone”, he said. “This is a multi-agency issue.”

The recent report from the Commission on the Future of Policing noted that much police time is given to dealing with vulnerable people, including those with substance misuse problems, mental-health problems, or who are homeless.

Is that what police should be doing? “The amount of time that police spend trying to protect vulnerable people easily eclipses the time spent dealing with crime,” the report says.

A UK report cited in the commission’s report found that non-crime related incidents account for 83 percent of all recorded incidents. “The evidence we have received presents a broadly similar pattern of demands on police time,” it says.

Police cannot solve the problem alone, says Tony Duffin, CEO of the Ana Liffey Drug Project. Much of the antisocial behaviour ascribed to people with addiction and other complex issues, he says, is not primarily a criminal justice issue, but a healthcare issue.

Photo by Sean Finnan

His organisation works with gardaí doing what they call “assertive case management”: “We proactively go out and engage with people who have health problems,” Duffin says. These health problems, says Duffin, can cause many of the project’s clients to behave in an antisocial way.

The team identifies individuals who may suffer from addiction, engage in public injection, begging, criminal behaviour, or rough-sleeping and works with them to help them find support.

Dawn Russell, Ana Liffey’s head of services, says the team targets the most vulnerable of the vulnerable, those that are also “known to gardaí and to Ana Liffey and causing low level crime and anti-social behaviour”.

Being Assertive

The aim of the team is to help people who find it difficult to “get what they need from services”, says Russell.

“There was the same people with the same behaviours in the same places with the same needs for years that nobody was able to reach well and services would have traditionally said they’re difficult to reach or they’re difficult to work with,” she says.

So services didn’t engaging with these clients until the clients motivated themselves to be a bit more stable and willing to engage with services, says Russell.

They flipped that on its head. Instead, they said, “they’re the actual people we need to wrap all our supports around. We need to wait not until they’re more stable, less violent or less chaotic or dealing less in order to work with them, we need to tailor our services around them,” she says.

Currently, Ana Liffey have five staff solely focused on treating those with addiction issues, each taking on twenty cases each.

New Faces

“Keeping people safe, investigating serious crime, dealing with public disorder, murder investigations targeting drug cartels – they’re all up the scale of policing issues,” says former Garda Superintendent Jack Nolan, who sits on the board of Ana Liffey.

“But the things that bother people most are the low-level, street and neighbourhood problems. Within Dublin City there are about 150–200 people at any one time who are in that cohort,” says Nolan.

One of the ideas behind the ACMT is that dealing with this group of individuals requires a more assertive push, going out onto the streets and talking to the people that are engaged in more chaotic and low-level criminal behaviour.

What most surprised both Nolan, who was involved in setting up the ACMT, and Russell was the number of people the team dealt with who had never engaged previously with different services – whether homeless services or addiction services.

For Nolan, it was an indicator that a significant cohort of people had existed outside of traditional services.

The biggest blocks, says Duffin, with regard to stabilizing individuals’ lives are access to secure accommodation and increased access to drug stabilisation programmes.

Even with increased access to these programmes, many of the detox or addiction-treatment centres are not “client-focused”, says Duffin.

People have to wean their drug intake down to a certain level before they can enter a programme, he says. Or to stop taking street drugs, or move from poly drug use to mono drug use before they will be taken by a detox centre.

But for many, especially amongst the most vulnerable that the ACMT manage, this is virtually impossible.

‘It’s harder to work with chaotic people,” says Russell. “But it impacts more on communities when you do. When you remove those people from their chaos, it’s felt by the community.”

Author:

Sean Finnan: is a reporter for Dublin Inquirer. He covers the north side of the city. You can reach him at sfinnan@dublininquirer.com.

Reader responses

Log in to write a response.

Understand your city

We do in-depth, shoe-leather reporting about the issues that shape Dublin. We're not funded by advertisers. We're funded by readers like you.

We use first-party cookies to allow visitors to log in to our website and read our articles.