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Eamonn Farrell/Photocall Ireland

Column The gardaí need firearms for our safety – and theirs

Sending unarmed gardaí out to deal with violent crime is simply reckless, argues veteran US detective Edward Foy.

I HAVE BEEN a law enforcement officer in the US for 39 years. But my great-grandparents on both sides were born in Ireland, one in Donegal and the other in Mayo, and I regularly visit Ireland with some other officers of Irish heritage. And one of the things that we do is talk to Garda officers. I don’t care what country you’re in, whether it’s Ireland or Italy or anywhere, there’s a definite bond between law enforcement officers. A solidarity. They want to know what we do and we want to know what they do.

This year, we came for the St Patrick’s Day parade. Afterwards, we were walking back to our hotel along Grafton Street, and we noticed the guards on duty were having to deal with some very intoxicated youthful offenders. We happened to get talking to two of the guards, and they were summoned over to deal with a quarrel in a side street. Soon enough, these guys were basically surrounded. The whole group of people closed in around them. And when you’re surrounded, you’re in trouble.

I watched, thinking “I hope these thugs are not armed with a gun or edged weapon.” Because when you go up against multiple individuals who are under the influence, it’s dangerous. And the only weapon they have is a nightstick. In my opinion, arming these officers with nothing but a baton in these conditions is simply reckless.

The difference with having a firearm is that there’s an unwritten respect. If I’m going into a confrontation with seven, eight individuals, and I’m armed, they know it. So they’re going to take a second thought about getting into a confrontation. But these thugs, they knew that the maximum protection of these two garda officers was an expandable baton. If I’m a thug in that situation, I’ve got to think I like my odds. But if I have to deal with an officer who’s got a firearm, I’m going to think twice.

Recently there was a case of a garda who was attending a domestic disturbance, and he had boiling oil thrown in his face. Now when I look at that, I think: Would that incident have brought about the use of a firearm? Probably not. But would that person have thrown the grease knowing that the officer was armed? That’s the question.

‘It could have been really ugly’

In the end, no one was harmed in the Grafton Street incident. We stepped in – the officers knew we were cops – and we just basically stood around the two of them. It could have been really ugly; but there were four of us, and we’re above average size, and we had their back. So when the crowd was dispersed they thanked us and we on about our business, they went about theirs. But the fact that these guys are going in there with the limited resources that they’re given is just mind boggling to us. I follow the Irish media, and in my estimation there has been a serious escalation in gun crime since six or seven years ago. It’s reckless to have unarmed officers dealing with that kind of situation.

It’s important to remember that a firearm is is not a weapon that you can treat lightly. It is not an offensive weapon. It’s to protect me and to protect the citizens that I’m sworn to protect. Every time it breaks the holster, there is a mountain of paperwork to say why. There is a long period of training you have to go through in the academy, before you even put your hands on a gun. It’s all about training. And I know whenever you mention the word training, you may as well put a euro sign in front of it – so perhaps there is some resistance there.

But in the US, there is not a law enforcement officer that I know that has not taken his or her firearm out of the holster and pointed it at someone, in a life or death situation. And I really feel sorry for the Irish officers, in a way. Because they don’t have that protection. I know that a lot of the higher level guys dealing with organised crime are armed. But I also know that the street-level people are your first line of defence. When you see the stories about these guys being injured, or dying – it’s appalling. They’ve got families, they’ve got children. If I’m an officer, and I’ve got four or five kids, I want to go home to them every night.

Detective Edward Foy is an officer in the Homicide Unit of Manatee County Sheriff’s Office, Bradenton, Florida. As told to Michael Freeman.

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