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Lowering fitness standards is the last thing the Gardaí need

Throughout history, leaders and those in positions of power have grappled with the age old question of whether it is better to be feared, or respected. Both have their clear benefits, and each is certainly an effective way to exert authority over a society.

But here in Ireland, we don’t have to worry about that particular question. Because our Gardaí are neither feared, nor respected by criminals, whatever about how the general public sees them. In fact, there are times when it appears that, when viewed through the eyes of criminals, the force is seen as a joke and the subject of ridicule.

For example, we all remember the now-infamous footage from Cherry Orchard last year, in which joyriding youths repeatedly rammed a Garda squad car in broad daylight.

Strangely enough, what was most shocking about that video was not even so much the display itself. Bad enough as that was, one could, if they wanted to, chalk it up to a few bad apples or an isolated incident.

In truth, the really disturbing part was the hoards of other kids cheering on what was happening and laughing about it.

In other words, we appear to have large groups of delinquent youths who not only support law breaking, but view the law and those who enforce it as laughable. They don’t fear the police – the police are a source of comedy for them. It’s all a big game so far as they’re concerned.

Around the same time, we saw two Gardaí (including a female) getting beaten to a pulp and hospitalised with their own batons, as someone across the street filmed the brutal attack. Someone uploaded the footage with a laughing emoji, and included the caption “Ballyer’s finest.”

Again – does this give the impression that criminals are petrified of law enforcement? Or does it reinforce the idea that the Gardaí are easily-defeated clowns that you can batter around on camera for fun?

Bear in mind that this is not my view – this is simply the apparent view of Ireland’s criminal underworld, as demonstrated by their behaviour.

This isn’t some brand new development either – contempt for the Gardaí has been years in the making.

In 2019, during a police raid, two young suspects who were having their homes raided slagged the police to their faces, mocking the quality of the coppers’ equipment. As reported by the Independent.ie at the time:

“As a plain-clothes garda wearing a stab-proof vest searches one of the pair, the suspect says: “Jesus, lads, I think mine is better than yours” as he displays his vest.”

So all-in-all, the police in this country have a real credibility problem. It’s not just that they aren’t seen as a serious threat – they’re seen as ridiculous.

Now, there are many things that one might want to attribute this to, and not all of them are the Gardaí’s fault.

For example, we all know that there’s a serious problem with the courts in this country, and the fact that sentencing is a mess. It’s not uncommon to see violent maniacs with hundreds of offences getting out of jail time and time again.

And so, in that context, even if the police do their job perfectly, and jail the bad guys over and over again, eventually the criminals learn that the Gardaí have been effectively castrated by the courts. If you arrest a guy fifty times, and the judge constantly lets him off with a slap on the wrist and he gets back on the streets, why would that man fear getting arrested? What are the cops going to do – arrest him again for the fifty first time? It’s a pisstake, and the gouger in question knows it. He starts to view the system, and everyone in it, as ludicrous. Because, let’s face it: they are.

So not all of the blame can be laid at the feet of the police themselves. And proposals like this one by Fianna Fáil Justice spokesman, Jim O’Callaghan TD, certainly don’t help either:

“Hey, why don’t we lower Garda fitness requirements?”

As the party said in a statement:

“The Fianna Fáil Justice spokesperson said, “It is my understanding that pass requirements for the shuttle run, and push-ups differ between sexes and age brackets. The obstacle course must be completed 3 times, in under 3 minutes and 20 seconds and if you fail any component, you must repeat the whole test.

“I am concerned that the fitness test is too demanding, out of step with other jurisdictions and is becoming a growing factor blocking recruitment.”

Now, I’d very much like to know in what possible world having police who are less fit will make them better at their jobs? If Gardaí are already getting beaten up and attacked relentlessly by criminals, how will having an officer with even worse cardio fare any better?

We know that assaults on Gardaí are on the rise, and at a time when it’s already open season on law enforcement, it’s hard to see how lower standards is going to make for better results.

One might argue (and this is pure speculation, mind you) that scrapping the height requirement for Gardaí in 2001 was a bad move for the same reason.

Before 2001, a male Garda had to be 5’9 to qualify, and females had to be 5’5. After 2001, this was abolished, with the Justice Minister at the time calling the requirement “regressive and inequitable.”

An Independent article at the time said that the changes were “inevitable” under “equality laws” (unsurprisingly).

Maybe this is very politically incorrect, but I think it probably stands to reason that a 5’1 person who struggles to do pushups is probably going to be less equipped to fight bad guys than a tall athletic person. Is that an unreasonable thing to say? Because I’m saying it.

This proposal is fundamentally absurd. We don’t just want anyone to be a police officer – we want good, effective people. It’s not really much consolation if you hire an extra fifty police officers for my area, but they’re all in worse shape than I am. If I wanted an overweight short guy to come and help me when I’m in danger, I’d ring my uncle.

Of course, if one really wanted to increase the number of people gunning for a job with the Gardaí, an easy way to do it would be to increase pay. It’s a dirty job, full of drama and stress – if someone is going to break their neck to pass some gruelling physical exam, and then be assailed daily by the dregs of society for a living, the least you can do is make it worth their while by actually compensating them appropriately.

Ultimately, I’m no anarchist – I support the police. Most reasonable people want to have a strong, effective, professional police force that keeps our streets safe. But proposals like O’Callaghan’s are certainly not the way to do it.

If anything, fitness standards should be raised – but it seems like the government simply isn’t willing to get real about the law and order crisis we currently face.

 

 

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