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Ground-breaking UL research focuses on tackling anti-social behaviour in Dublin South Central

The research, called Building Community Resilience, was carried out by Dr Johnny Connolly of the Centre for Crime, Justice and Victim Studies, School of Law, University of Limerick
Wed, 11 Dec 2019

A new research report and connected strategy carried out by a University of Limerick academic identifies the nature and reach of key criminal networks within Dublin South Central and documents the intimidation, stress and fear that pockets of communities living in the areas most connected to the networks are experiencing.

The research, called Building Community Resilience, was carried out by Dr Johnny Connolly of the Centre for Crime, Justice and Victim Studies, School of Law, University of Limerick. It was launched this Wednesday in Dublin.

While the report finds that only a relatively small number of people (estimated at under 2% between the ages of 12 and 40) are involved in criminal and anti-social behaviour, their actions are having a continuing corrosive and damaging impact on a far greater number. 

The ground-breaking research forms the evidential basis for a new strategy, of the same name, which completely re-thinks and upends more conventional responses to criminal and anti-social behaviour. It prioritises the needs and concerns of the communities and families silenced by the anti-social behaviour, in addition to continuing to focus on the criminality. The new research and strategy was commissioned by the four local policing forums (4Forums) across Dublin South Central. 

It can also be applied to other areas across the city and country dealing with similar challenges.

The study maps the dynamics of the two main networks in Dublin South Central, stretching from the Liberties to Walkinstown. It finds that while they are fluid in nature, they also have a loosely hierarchical structure.

At the top are the key players who are rarely connected directly with criminal or anti-social behaviour. There are the middle-men who work the streets and carry out the jobs. These are mostly young men – considered expendable - who often use drugs themselves and are involved in the networks because of their addiction or a drug debt. At the bottom are the children, as young as 10 or 11, who are groomed to be the runners and the carriers. These young children, many still in primary school, are considered “expendable” and ”plentiful.”

The research also investigates the integral relationship between socio-economic deprivation and disadvantage and examines how this facilitates the continued operation, control and impact of the criminal networks.

“The criminal activity linked to the drugs trade, and the intimidating anti-social behaviour associated with this, is endemic across pockets of communities living in South Central Dublin and many other areas across the country,” explained Dr Connolly of UL's School of Law.

“It is having a corrosive, damaging and inter-generational impact on communities and families, the vast majority of whom want to be able to live safe and decent lives.” 

“We need to change this reality for these communities,” he continued. “We have to turn our attention to building community resilience, to strengthening and resourcing community policing, to listening seriously to what people are experiencing on the ground and to working methodically and proactively with them to put in place the responses and supports that they need to flourish.”  

The new research and strategy champions an holistic response to the needs of the communities most affected. It stresses that while responsibility for community resilience needs to be taken on by An Garda Siochána, it is also the responsibility of local authorities, community organisations, residents and a range of statutory bodies working together.

The key actions emanating from the research mirror and target the loose organisational layers of the networks themselves. This includes developing an interagency response to target the top layer of career criminals; putting in place an intensive street level outreach model to reach the young people at greatest risk of getting involved with the networks; and creating a rescue plan for vulnerable  children, before they are groomed.

Peter Dorman of Community Action Network, who co-ordinated the development of the strategy with the four police forums (4 Forums), said that the strategy was potentially transformative, but that it had to be resourced and supported by Government if it was to work.   

“The actions we propose to implement within this strategy have all been shown to work, here in Ireland and internationally,” he said. “The problem is that they have too often been operated as pilot programmes which have been stopped after a period of time, despite their positive results. This strategy relies on putting them together as a holistic and sustained response.”

“We have to move beyond the pilot and piecemeal mindset. We can no longer just react when a series of incidents occur, when there is a death or an outbreak of anti-social behaviour. Our actions have to be sustained and adequately resourced by Government if we are to make a real and lasting difference for communities and families,” he continued.

The strategic response is also different to previous responses because it is built on three over-riding principles or values – upholding the human rights of whole communities, ensuring care and a trauma informed response to all involved, including those recruited by the networks, and using restorative approaches to build and restore healthy relationships within communities and within families.

It is envisaged that this new community focused strategy will be driven by the Local Policing Forums in each area. The new strategy also fits the vision for the future of policing and community safety as outlined by the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland, of which Dr Connolly was a member.

In particular, it highlights the role of the new Policing and Community Safety Oversight Commission (PCSOC) in delivering localised reforms on the ground.

5 Point Plan - How the strategy will work

The proposed strategy proposes the following tools to support and strengthen communities living with the impact of criminal and anti-social behaviour:

1. Community Crime Impact Assessments: already proven to work, this allows the community itself to gather testimony as to the impact of criminal behaviour on those who live and work there.  This data is then triangulated with Pulse data, with local authority complaints and other sources, and then responded to with appropriate interventions.  Assessments are continuously taken to monitor the impact of these interventions – and to see if they are working for people.
2. Problem oriented approaches to respond intensively to hotspots of criminal and anti-social behaviour.  
3. Develop an interagency response to the career criminals – the key leaders … one possibility is to use JARC – the Joint Agency Response to Crime – to manage the prolific offenders.
4. Employ an intensive street level outreach model to target the young people involved at the middle tiers – those involved in street dealing networks, their families and those who are around them within the hotspots of activity. 
5. Create specific interventions for the children who are identifiable as recruits before they are groomed, before they are taken up by the networks