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Policing Authority compliments improved Garda engagement during pandemic 
The Policing Authority has questioned An Garda Síochána’s “reluctance” to use its full enforcement powers when dealing with businesses who are failing to adhere to Covid-19 regulations. 
The authority’s tenth evaluation report on how gardaí are responding during the pandemic notes businesses who are adhering to restrictions want more “visible and consistent enforcement” against industry members who break the rules. 
The overall tone of the latest Policing Authority report is complimentary of Garda efforts during the pandemic, underlining that the Covid-19 crisis has been characterised by “greater Garda visibility, engagement and proactivity within communities”. 
Policing Authority chairman Bob Collins said in some circumstances, such as house parties, Garda powers were limited. 
“On the one hand there was too high a level of expectation of the Garda Síochána, that they could be everywhere and . . . do everything that everyone wanted,” he said. 
“I think had there been the same degree of on-the-spot fines from the outset as was manifest in some other jurisdictions and within Great Britain from police service to police service, I think there would have been a very adverse reaction In the commercial sector, however, Mr Collins said some people would like to see a “stronger line” being taken where there were examples of people “departing from the norm” and amid concerns this was anti-competitive. 
“I think they [gardaí] have got it right in terms of the use of the powers available to them,” he said but added more data would be desirable on the issuing of directions to members of the public and their compliance. 
“It may be that as people become a little bit wearier then the sense of social cohesion may become a little more fragile,” Mr Collins said. 
Gardaí have reached into the “nooks and crannies of the community to find those who needed assistance”, while some groups described policing during the pandemic as a “blueprint for community policing”, reports the authority. 
It also commends the Garda operation Faoiseamh, which was established in response to a rise in reports of domestic abuse, and had “an almost catalytic impact in hastening a shift in the appreciation, understanding and culture” around this type of crime and harm. 
The operation created a “more nuanced understanding of domestic abuse and coercive control” and that there is “no one type of victim or perpetrator”, according to the report. 
However, young people, irrespective of social class, ethnicity, sexuality or location in Ireland, perceived policing during the pandemic as “an instrument of control rather than care”, it warns. 
Some gardaí, who afforded certain communities “respect and parity of esteem” at the height of the pandemic, have reverted to “a previous tone which is belittling, aggressive and incompatible with any ability to have confidence that the police service is there for them”, adds the report. 
The number of Garda Covid-19 enforcement actions taken in November and December continued to rise with 157 incidents reported, bringing to 859 the total number of incidents where Covid-19 enforcement powers were required since April. 
Since the end of June, Gardaí have reported nine incidents relating to face coverings, five incidents relating to international travel and 74 incidents relating to other breaches such as organising events. Incidents involving the public were “considerably lower” during Level 5 restrictions when compared with incidents during April and May, says the authority. 
Related incident 
The northwest of the country remains the region with the most Covid-19 related incidents this year (33 per cent of all incidents since April), with Cavan and Monaghan accounting for the highest number. 
Anti-spit hoods have been used by gardaí 120 times this year, including 30 incidents in April and 36 in May. The hood was only used by gardaí once in December, notes the report. These hoods have been most frequently used in Dublin with 101 incidents relating to men and 19 incidents connected to women. Anti-spit hoods have been used six times on children under 18. 
The report warns spit hoods used by gardaí may not be fully protecting their welfare and expressed concern their capacity to prevent airborne or respiratory droplets had not been tested. 
The number of “spitting assaults”, where a garda was coughed or spat on, dropped to 17 in November from 24 the previous month. These assaults peaked in May when 48 incidents were recorded. 
Some 2,914 crime incidents relating to roads, public order and drugs offences were also discovered between April and December 2020 as a result of Covid-19 policing activities, an increase of 308 on the last policing authority report, it notes. 
Mr Collins said An Garda Síochána now faced the challenge of ensuring the “new tone and new style of engagement” adopted during the pandemic was permanently embedded into Irish policing. 
“This is not a challenge of resources because tone and style are not functions of resources but are an expression of respect and empathy,” said Mr Collins. “Numbers can increase visibility but approach and tone can deliver presence and, with that, meaningful engagement and enduring relationships.” 
Mr Collins commended gardaí for giving vulnerable Irish people “hope and a sense of greater security” and for its “sustained emphasis” on supporting those affected by domestic violence. 
Covid-19 has shown the State how the role of gardaí goes “far beyond law enforcement and can create a sense of security, of confidence and of certainty”, he said. 
However, not everyone has experienced Irish policing “with the same warmth of response” and all gardaí must understand “the importance of respect and empathy”, he added. 
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