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Closing rural police stations and crime prevention in Ireland

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The media are at it again. Their repetitively hollow, sterile rhetoric has the public head-nodding to feeling betrayed by Minister of Justice Alan Shatter's decision to close rural Garda stations. It is a feeling that is understandable, since the closures are yet another government's backtracking on pre-election promises.

Amidst cynical public feelings that the police are simply another gang, a haughty, unfair and supercilious arm of the state's political elite, the debate over the closure of rural Garda stations have re-kindled our recognition that the boys in blue do in fact play a vital role in the tolerated war against crime, although that role is, I believe, a limited one.

But amongst widespread angst, I must interject at the unimaginative reasoning behind the public and media outcry, because it is based on a belief that the police are the most effective instrument in crime prevention, a sentiment which I believe is like thinking that putting icing on a burnt cake will make it all moist and tasty again. Yes, Alan Shatter's decision is devoid of thought, but not because crime will rise, since it has actually fallen, but for the fact that Irish governments have not demolished the structures that cause crime in the first place.

This defeatist attitude of ignoring the root causes of crime is no more exemplified by a recent article in a Dublin newspaper. Councillor Anthony Lavin of the Fine Gael party proclaimed that station closures have to be taken into context as part of a wider reform of the Gardai, with officers requiring to work less hours at the desk. According to Mr. Lavin,  "Gardai are out and about in communities helping to prevent crime rather than having to mind the Garda station" (Burke 2013).

Goodness gracious, we have a genius politician. A Messiah of hope. Well done Mr. Lavin, but what an absolutely astounding cliché to make, that the Gardai are out and about preventing crime as if it's a simple matter of waving a magic wand. These assertions and beliefs are typical of not only the populist, scripted talk of politicians, but of both the public and even well in-tune commentators.

The sombre, betrayed mood spurred by the closure of these stations rests upon the sole and single, stunted, ideological but imaginative reasoning that the police are the only instrument with which to prevent crime. Now that stations have been closed, crime will supposedly rise. What kind of thinking is this? And how could we bring ourselves to this conclusion?

It is due to the abysmal wreck of the close-minded rhetoric of both commentators and politicians. I am criticising both sides here, because it is my opinion that the only primary, singular reason which could ever validate the closing of stations and the reduction of police numbers, lies in the reduction of crime resulting from a sophisticated and evidence-based structural re-organisation of society. When the structures that create crime are re-organised into structures that reduce crime, only then can we reduce police numbers and close stations, since therewould bes less crime for the police to chase. But no commentators have made this argument, presumably because those in the media do not in any way realise that crime can be prevented.

And how can crime be prevented? By increasing police? Re-opening the stations? Building more stations? Real crime prevention means digging into the root causes of crime and alleviating those root causes, which are mainly poverty, inequality and social exclusion.

Sure, community policing initiatives have been commendably successful, especially in areas which face crime on a regular basis. Sociologist Niamh Hourigan's study (2011) of Limerick city, for example, typifies community policing's most noble and fulfilling mandate. Limerick city's notorious reputation for merciless belligerent and brutal gangland crime has earned it the reputation as Ireland's crime hotspot, but paradoxically, it has not been saved from Alan Shatter's defiantly detached stance - a daffy daft move. Gardai in Limerick are crudely and bluntly seen as just another big gang in the eyes of criminal gangs, and Hourigan rightly points out that it is community policing that has contributed to real improvements in crime rates.

But community policing can never hope to demolish the structures that created the crime it engages with in the first place, and no matter how successful, no matter how a compassionately helpful aurora of  optimism these wonderful Gardai bring to their communities, the truth is that all these interventions are what I see as superficial initiatives; a skimming over of the real underlying issues; a bunch of tools to combat crime without combating the causes of crime. Believing that the police can prevent crime is like thinking putting icing on a burnt cake will make it all moist and tasty again.

The Limerick Leader (2013) recently ran a story which quoted councillor Eddie Ryan, who suggested that the closure of these stations will put the elderly "at the mercy of criminal gangs". These [cynical?] statements are typical of the type of the shockingly shallow pieces of political num-nums the public have to face, and yet commentators put up with it. My position, which is quite anarchic, is that maybe if those councillors removed the very social structures which breed gang crime in the first place, then maybe Limerick wouldn't have to fear these possible repercussions.

Crime is complicated, but there is a logic to crime that isn't beyond our intelligence. The closure of Garda stations is certainly a daft move, but I am tired of listening to all this shallow, stunted rhetoric that passively assumes without question that the police are THE magic cure for crime. They are not. Crime, especially violent and gangland crime, is caused by a much more pernicious deeper, darker misery ocean than simply the absence of police.

Those who break the law and those who are uphold it are merely playing a game of manhunt, in which police are the chasers. The police as a viable means in preventing crime is nothing but a Disneyland dream which we have not grown out of. The police catch crime only after it happens. They do not prevent it. Neighbourhood Watches, crime prevention strategies, CCTV cameras - all helpful in some way, but all are simply an array of superficial Cadbury milk tray chocolates which we happily pick and choose from our crime prevention box. Oh, crime is on the rise - which one shall we choose now?

On the outside, these crime 'prevention' measures look all sweet and cosy. But our never-endingly limited thinking that these are the keys to solving crime are only serving to prevent our rational minds from thinking outside this box of Cadburys. This is discursive censure on a totally different level. The lack of criminological debate within the wider society has contributed to a feeling that these measures are all we have. We simply cannot see that crime prevention initiatives, promoted by both politicians and police, are not in fact needed in a world where crime is a rarity, since crime can, I believe, be prevented by structural re-organisation.

The 'crime prevention' selection box of well-intentioned practical measures, which include the police, does not in any way help to relieve the reasons why people want to commit crime in the first place. Burglar alarms are necessary devices of alert, but we must ask ourselves: why do some people want to rob a home in the first place? We must ask, what were the conditions that could leave them so desperate and so brazenly intrusive in the first place? Our picking and choosing of prevention initiatives, though proven successful, are always too late, since the crime either has already been committed, or the intention to commit crime has already been formulated.

Can police relieve inequality? Can they end poverty? Can they mobilise their cuffs and batons in restraining the very structures that cause violence in the first place? No. The police are vital force of social control, but what they can never hope to achieve is their own demise, since they have no power to change the structures that breed crime. They play the game of hide and seek. They find the criminals and catch them. But the question is - who made the game necessary in the first place?


Burke, N. (2013). Garda station closures 'make no sense' - Butler . Gazette Newspapers. 7 February. Available from []

Fitzgerald, A. (2013). Fears grow as six Garda stations close in Limerick. Limerick Leader. 31 January. Available from []

Hourigan, N. (ed.) (2011). Understanding Limerick: Social Exclusion and Change. Cork: Cork University Press.

Robert Bolton is a social science undergraduate at University College Cork.

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