GARDAÍ are planning to attend all funerals in Laois as part of an unusual community policing initiative.
Operation Respect will be rolled out across the Laois-Offaly garda division, where on average there are three to five deaths daily.
The new plan has been announced by the division’s Chief Superintendent John Scanlan, who says the aim is to improve community relations and assist bereaved families.
While garda involvement in traffic management at large funerals is nothing new, Operation Respect is different. It plans to have a garda in attendance at all removals and funerals in the two counties, from small rural ceremonies to large services in the main towns.
Announcing the plan at a quarterly meeting of the Offaly Joint Policing Committee (JPC) in Tullamore last week, Chief Superintendent Scanlan said gardaí have monitored death notices in both Laois and Offaly to establish how many funerals there are in the division. As a result, they estimate that three to five deaths occur every day across the two counties.
The chief superintendent said that, regardless of who has died, the division expects to have a garda in attendance at all removals and funerals to provide assistance and to promote community relations. He pointed out that gardaí in small rural stations are essentially community gardaí and have an important role not just in policing but as part of the community. He added that, in time, his ambition is to ensure that there are no longer any garda stations with just one garda anywhere in Laois and Offaly.
There has been a major increase in garda numbers in Laois over the past two years, with about 70 new gardaí appointed to the county after graduating from the garda training college in Templemore. Once trained by experienced officers in Portlaoise, they can move to other towns and rural areas.
At the last JPC meeting in Portlaoise last April, Chief Superintendent Scanlan said he aimed to increase the number of community gardaí across the county thanks to the increase in recruitment.
It is expected that Operation Respect will be rolled out gradually across Laois and Offaly in the coming months.
Speaking to the Laois Nationalist yesterday (Monday), Portlaoise-based Garda Inspector Jer Glavin said many rural areas were left without community gardaí during the recession and Operation Respect is part of an attempt to re-engage with local people and to revive the role of the community garda.
Inspector Glavin commented: “The aim of the operation is to show a garda presence and to support the community. In the old days, the local garda would have attended funerals and we are trying to engage with people in that way again and to re-energise the relationship between gardaí and the community. Depending on numbers, it may not be possible to attend every funeral but, where possible, that is what we intend to do.”