The gardai response to coronavirus could change the face of community policing following an increased presence in local areas.
Gardai have been at the forefront in helping local communities cope with the unprecedented circumstances and lockdown laws across Ireland.
Units nationwide have been delivering medication, food and other services to the homes of vulnerable people and the elderly who are “cocooning”.
This is bringing us right back into the heart of the community to show that we are there to assist themSgt John O'Reilly
For the thousands of people who are following Government advice and not leaving their homes over coronavirus fears, the service has been a lifeline.
Sergeant John O’Reilly, of community policing in Finglas in Dublin, said the frontline initiative has strengthened the relationship between gardai and the public.
“There is huge benefit to be gained from this, we’re very much community-based and this is bringing us right back into the heart of the community to show that we are there to assist them,” he said.
“It doesn’t always have to involve a criminal nature. The feedback that we’re getting from the community and the people we’re visiting on a daily basis is extremely positive.
“As a result of that, this is something that will continue to run and I believe it should be a national team for the organisation.
“It’s vitally important that we maintain our links with the community, and this is without a doubt improving our relationships and strengthening our bonds with the community that we serve.”
With the help of community representatives and Dublin City Council, gardai in Finglas were able to identify the vulnerable and elderly people living locally.
Officers collect groceries, meals and prescriptions every day and deliver them to the homes of those who are isolated.
On some occasions, officers have also been taking elderly people’s dogs for walks.
Sgt O’Reilly added: “It’s been very positive and I’m very thankful for being in the community office. We have a different role within the organisation and that’s to be the face of it and to be there as a support mechanism for the community and perhaps being able to spend a bit more time with them than other units might be able to.
“It’s really about interacting with the people and to engage with them, it’s not about police work all the time, it’s about helping them and how we can make their life easier during this horrific time.
“On a personal level, I find it tough to see how this is affecting people, particularly those who are living on their own.
“To try and combat that we are trying to interact with the most vulnerable on a daily basis and stay with them as long as we possibly can. Whether that just be for a conversation, it’s really about raising people’s spirits and showing that we are there to support them, and anything that might make their life easier, we have no problem following through on that.
“The biggest benefit that I have seen is bringing a smile to someone’s face.”
Gladys Akognon is one of many people using the service.
Ms Akognon’s young daughter Grace suffers from respiratory issues meaning they cannot leave their home to collect vital medication.
“It’s very scary for me to go out because I don’t know what I am bringing back into the house,” she said.
“One of my friends in Finglas used to collect medication for us but at the moment she can’t it so this service is great because it means I don’t have to look for someone to mind Grace.
“I’m so happy with it. It takes away that concern that I have as cocooning is very tough.”
With Government plans to ease restrictions from May 18, gardai say they can see some members of the public becoming frustrated over the continuing lockdown measures.
However, Sgt O’Reilly said that most of the public continue to be supportive, particularly at Covid-19 checkpoints.
“The vast majority of people are adhering to the guidelines, but there is a selected few that are persistent on taking chances,” he added.
“Anybody who has breached the regulations and if they decide to not adhere to the advice, unfortunately, then we left no other option but to act on that.”