INSIDE STORY: “We rely hugely on the public, we can say DNA and forensic are very important, but ultimately we are very dependant on the goodwill of the public and how they trust us. If we don’t have the trust of the public, then we don’t have a lot,” says Chief Superintendent of the Cavan-Monaghan Garda District, CHRISTOPHER MANGAN, in an exclusive interview with THOMAS LYONS...
Chief Supt Mangan is discussing investigating historic murder cases in Cavan, but a people-centric approach to acting as guardian of the peace in the Cavan and Monaghan Division is the theme that repeatedly crops up no matter what the topic of discussion. From drugs to murder to cattle rustling the head of the police force in the two counties repeatedly stresses the importance of the public in the way crime is addressed.
The chief superintendent says that public input moves every investigation along: “It is important that they [the public] feel that they can talk to a certain garda and the information they impart will be treated confidently. People will tell us certain information that we can't release, but we are there to ensure that the information will be used.”
The interaction with communities is done in a variety of ways. One recent initiative that was a huge success was the open day organised in Bailieborough. Bringing the public into a Garda station in an informal, and even fun way, is something that breaks down barriers and Chief Superintendent says benefits the force and the community: “People just chatted and spoke of their concerns. That is the way to police, police with the people. You get a lot off the public when you police like that. It feeds into how we do our work.”
The Meath native took up the top spot in the Cavan Monaghan division in August of last year. Highly decorated and with a wealth of experience in criminal investigation and in tackling the country's drug problem Chief Superintendent Mangan has been 35 years in the service of An Garda Síochána. Most of that time was in Dublin, starting out in Crumlin and Drimnagh, a short stint as a sergeant in Clones, before returning to the capital.
“I was involved in a number of drug and robbery units dealing with serious violent crime before eventually being appointed to the Garda National Drug Unit. I was appointed Detective Inspector in Fitzgibbon Garda station which was quite a busy posting. There I dealt with serious crime, including high profile murder cases, such as the infamous Scissor Sisters case.”
Working in Dublin through the eighties, nineties and noughties he worked on the investigation into the 'Love Ulster' riots, as part of the Serious Crime Review team reviewing older cases and while based in Dublin Metropolitan Region West (covering Blanchardstown, Ballyfermott, Finglas and Cabra) investigated an amount of violent crime in the huge population centre. In that time the nation's drug problem was evolving with heroin transforming criminality in the capital. That criminality saw the divisional commander twice confronted by perpetrators who were armed. His reactions in those incidents saw him twice receive the Walter Scott Medal for Valour, a medal awarded annually for bravery in the Garda Síochána.
'Hit the deck'
The first happened in 1988: “The fight or flight response, you are faced with someone coming out of a bank with a hand gun and they are intent, having committed a crime and perhaps being high, on escaping. It was a surreal situation for me and I reacted in a certain way. I dealt with it head on.
“I would never encourage people to take on a bank robber. If you are in the street you are better off standing back, but in the two incidents I was involved in, I reacted a certain way. The first one was a Christmas Eve. These guys had robbed a premise and we arrived at the scene. They reversed the getaway car over my observer and pinned him to another car, two of them came out and one put his gun up to my head. He hit the deck because I dealt with him, I had to put him on the ground. He received a very long custodial sentence. I don't think you have enough time to filter it through your mind that you were facing a life or death situation.”
The second took place in 1996. As with the first, drugs were again a factor: “This happened in Dolphin House in Dublin. After following four people into an apartment we disarmed and arrested them. It was one of those incidents where you look back an think - that was interesting. You are trained to deal with certain situations but when someone is pointing a gun at your head it is a make or break situation and you just deal with it.”
Three decades of dealing with crime has shaped his view of how to approach many social problems: “You can view the drugs problem as a war or take the stance of how to get a demand reduction approach. How do we reduce the demand for heroin and other controlled drugs? We have to deal with it professionally. You gain an understanding of who you deal with. It is not the job of a Garda to be judgemental, it is to present the facts.
“People commit crimes for a variety of reason. I have seen people unfortunately involved in crime and they will see it is as a necessity. They may think that they have to steal to provide for the family. Obviously that is not morally acceptable, but they will think that it is. We also have to put on operations in certain cases to prevent people from killing themselves and killing others. People do not see the Gardaí interrupting assassination bids and that happens on a regular basis.”
The day to day operations of the Gardaí is not confined to tackling crime. Another area where they act as the front line is on mental health issues: “Before Christmas we would have dealt with a number of people that should have been the subject of the mental health service. I am not a medical practitioner, but I know from reading the issues that there were serious concerns for their mental well being.
“There are situations where a person barricades themselves into a house and it is plainly down to the mental state of the person at that particular time. We are the front line."
He said that in the run up to Christmas the actions of the gardaí in the Cavan Monaghan division saved a number of vulnerable people who attempted to take their own lives.
The Cavan Monaghan Division is a gear down from West Dublin. However Chief Superintendent Mangan says that it is still busy:”There is not a huge amount of violent crime in Cavan Monaghan, but there is a certain level of other types of crime. I would like to see us as an organisation being more proactive. We are arresting people every day of the week for everything from robbery to public order.”
Many of the public order issues that crop up at weekends are down to alcohol: “I genuinely think that alcohol is probably a bigger problem than drugs are. People tend to put drugs up as one of the main causes of crime, but people who have consumed alcohol and end up in an altercation that has serious consequences for both sides are more common. You may have a victim that is seriously injured and a perpetrator who was never in trouble before in their life, assault someone and get a conviction.”
“I was recently talking to a person who was interested in joining the Gardaí but unfortunately they were involved in a number of silly incidents when they were younger, that will certainly affect their ability to join the gards.”
A recent public meeting arranged by the Joint Policing Committee of Cavan County Council identified drug as the number one public concern. Tackling the issue is a priority for the Garda divisional head: “If heroin is being seized then you have to ask how many people are taking heroin and how many people are involved in the sale. For me one bag of heroin is too much in any town. It is a drug that will bring a lot of devastation into a community.”
Establishing a divisional drugs unit is a mark of Chief Superintendent Mangan's commitment to that philosophy: “Certain people are driving expensive cars and living in expensive houses and how are they doing this? Where are they getting the money from? They are not working. We have complaints from the community about these people displaying distinctive signs of wealth.”
“The drug unit interviews are just completed this week and the unit will be set up to provide the resources necessary to deal with the drug issues in Cavan Monaghan. Cavan and Monaghan are no different than any other counties in Ireland. We have to make sure that the drug dealers don't take over and we will endeavour to provide as much assistance as we can for people who are taking drugs.”
Inextricably linked with the drug problem is the activity of criminal gangs: “In any county there are individuals that will consider themselves the dominant criminal gang. I am aware of affiliations of people in Cavan Monaghan with people in Dublin. That has been an issue for many years, it is not a new phenomenon. The linkages across the border is also something that we are certainly taking a hard stance on with our drug dealing and organised crime operations.”
The closure of Garda stations in rural areas has been extremely difficult for people and it is something that the Chief Superintendent recognises: “People gain a certain comfort from the fact that a garde station is open. We are looking at a more community based type of police person, but to get there we need more resources. By putting in six people into a drug unit I have to pull those people from other areas. It is not easy managing what we have, but we are doing our level best.”
That workload involves not just dealing with the present, but the past. Addressing outstanding murders in Cavan is on the agenda for Chief Superintendent Mangan: “From my previous posting I have been involved in a review of a number of murders. Some of which have come to fruition, some are historical murders. We spend a considerable amount of time looking back, sometimes you can bring your investigation to a particular point where you can't move forward. When you return to it, changes in forensics or in relationships can give you a breakthrough.”
Historic investigations rely on the public input and that returns to the importance of the community in the work on An Garda Síochána: “There are a huge amount of positives in these counties. I interact with a large number of local community groups. We have a lot of schemes where we interact with elected representatives and with the public. There are brilliant communities and community organisations like the GAA, soccer clubs, rugby clubs and a wide variety of sporting organisations and youth groups. Cavan Monaghan is a fantastic division to work in I walk up the town and people say hello to me. People don't realise how lucky they are to be in a place that is so open and friendly.”