The key to good policing is forging links within the community and accumulating local intelligence, the new chief of the Cork West garda division tells Siobhán Cronin
CHIEF Superintendent Con Cadogan’s move to Bandon, to take charge of the Cork West garda division could be described as ‘a sort of a homecoming’.
The Skibbereen man – from Coolbue, Caheragh – had worked within the division once before, because his first promotion after Cork city was as a sergeant in Kinsale. But this time he is back to head up all of West Cork.
Unusually, An Garda Siochana was not Chief Supt Cadogan’s first port of call after school, at St Fachtna’s in Skibbereen. Although he recalls telling his career guidance teacher Eamon Nealon in first year, that the guards would be one of his choices, he found himself, after Leaving Cert, in Waterford IT studying Agriculture and Food Science.
‘I was working with Drinagh Co-op during the summer, taking in the milk,’ he recalls, ‘but I always had the guards at the back of my mind.’
And so, after seeing an ad for recruits in 1981, he paid a visit to Drimoleague Garda Station and filled out an application form. ‘I remember they had a tape measure stuck to the back of the door to measure you, and they took my chest size too! I went into Templemore on September 8th 1982.’
Six months later, he was out, and stationed in MacCurtain Street. Between 1983 and 1990 he formed part of an armed garda task force, established to combat a rise in crime on the city’s northside.
‘There had been a lot of robberies and attacks on the elderly but I spent three great years there. It was a very successful unit,’ he says, ‘and drugs were starting to appear and cause problems. We had to work at the root causes of crime, which included poor housing and high unemployment, and all that had a knock-on effect because some people diverged into crime.’
Around this time, the Cork gardai started to add a more social aspect to their policing, for the first time. ‘We started working with the community and forged greater links with local people. Policing isn’t rocket science, you really have to work with the community,’ he believes. ‘And it paid great dividends. After those seven years, people began to see the rewards of the ‘softer’ element of policing.’
He remembers how former Cork footballer Ned Kirby was the first community garda on the northside. Football became a bit of a common denominator between the gardai and the community then. ‘I remember one soccer match between the gardai and some people who were just out of prison,’ he smiles. ‘And sport was a great way of getting through to a community. It helped divert people from crime and it took down barriers. We made many friendships there.’
In 1990 he was promoted to sergeant in Kinsale. ‘That was the flip side of the coin,’ he says. ‘It was a very tourist orientated town, with different social problems – and we saw everything that is associated with an economy starting to pick up. Kinsale was very busy then with events. But it was both a rural and an urban area, with the problems that come with both. We started looking at pendants and alarms for the elderly – in fact we were ahead of our time in that regard.’ The station held fundraisers to pay for them as there were no grants in those days.
After his colleague Sgt Pat Mahon was promoted to Inspector, Sgt Cadogan took over as ‘sergeant-in-charge’ of Kinsale, in 1994. During his time the garda station was renovated and working conditions for staff were improved, and there was a great rapport with the community. ‘You would meet people from all walks of life in Kinsale then – from the arts, sport, the media …’ he says, adding that one of the main issues of concern he recalls was every Sunday night after the ferry from France arrived in Ringaskiddy.
‘You would have regular accidents on the Cork to Kinsale road, as tourists relaxed after getting off the boat and drifted across to the wrong side of the road.’ He campaigned for multilingual signs on the roads – one of the first places in Ireland to install them – and they made a huge difference ‘almost overnight’.
In December 2000, the Skibbereen garda was promoted to Inspector in Waterford and spent two years there, until he was brought back to Anglesea St in Cork where he was assistant to the Supt and had responsibility for the city’s courts.
In 2006, he was made Superintendent and was sent to Gort in Co Galway – a rural town that had just received a major influx of Brazilians, who had gone there in search of work.
‘It was very unusual there at first because, at 8am in the morning, when I would be going into town, I would see all the men lined up on the street and the farmers would arrive in and point to them and say “I want you, and you, and you” and off they would go with them. I had never seen anything like that before.’
But the Brazilian community integrated very well with their Galway counterparts, and there was very little trouble in the town. However, in October of that year, Supt Cadogan’s skillset was put to the test after a man barricaded himself into his house with a shotgun, as a result of a domestic dispute. ‘It hit the headlines and the siege went into the next day, and the man fired shots from his front door. He also wrote off a brand new patrol car we had just managed to secure! He had over 4,000 rounds of ammunition and he came out of the house and was going to take on the Emergency Response Unit, but they fired a shot at him and hit him in the shoulder.’
Supt Cadogan recalls that he had to make the call earlier to evacuate 50 houses in the estate at 3am in the morning – including men, women and children, and find them accommodation in a local hotel until the siege was over.
After Gort, he was stationed in Fermoy for a brief period and from there he was moved to Gurranabraher, where he worked from August 2007 until August 2016. It was during this time that the northside began to be transformed, with a housing regeneration project underway and a multi-agency approach to its social problems. ‘We worked with the local authority, the HSE and the education system and we were all singing off the same hymn sheet. When we all got together, we were a very formidable force and a lot of things got done,’ he remembers.
‘The crime stats were dropping every year up to last year and that area now has one of the lowest crime rates in Cork. It is now a safer community for people to live and work in. One of Ireland’s biggest employers – Apple – is there, and they have given great employment to the area. There are also many small businesses supporting them there.’
Supt Cadogan’s next promotion was to Chief Supt in Tralee, overseeing the Kerry division, in August of last year. ‘Yes, that was a baptism of fire indeed,’ he says, recalling the armed robbery that hit the headlines on his first day. Two men were later charged with the robbery of €5,000 from the Waterville post office. The men were apprehended shortly after the crime was committed, and much kudos was given to the teamwork of the gardaí in Tralee.
On September 28th Chief Supt Cadogan received a call to say that he was also taking charge of the West Cork division, following the retirement of Chief Supt Tom Hayes.
‘I was told I was being allocated to Cork West so I was spending three days in Kerry and two here, but with modern technology now and Pulse, it’s very easy to keep in touch between stations.’
He found that dual role had its advantages, too, as some crimes were being committed cross-border and he recalled one case in which a number of men carrying out crimes in Castletownbere and Bantry had earlier been suspected of similar crimes in Kerry, and the information was readily available to Cork West, leading to early detection.
‘Criminals don’t see boundaries of course,’ he notes.
But when the news came through, a few months later, that he was being moved to Cork West on a permanent basis, he was happy to find he was coming back to the area that wasn’t just ‘home’ but also familiar to him since his first promotion.
All that time he had also been commuting to work from his home in Ballinhassig which he had moved into when he married his wife, Tullylease native Margaret.
It was in Ballinhassig that they raised their two daughters – Aishling (now 27, a qualified doctor specialising in paediatrics in CUH) and Eimer (24, a psychology graduate working with the HSE).
Supt Cadogan has played sport most of his life, including football with Caheragh and rugby with Skibbereen, and later with Ballinhassig and Highfield in Glasheen.
He sees many comparisons with his life in the Force.
‘Being a garda is like being on a team, because, in the end, it’s all about teamwork.’
Chief Supt Cadogan on the record
‘Pick up the phone and talk to us’
‘I know this is a big worry for parents. Drugs are every parents’ nightmare. We have seen a lot of drugs seized in recent weeks. We have a great Juvenile Liaison Officer in James O’Mahony here and Don Davis in Bantry. It’s all about intelligence. But don’t assume we know something. I would appeal to any parent not to be afraid to tell us if they know something that might help us, or them. Pick up the phone and talk to us. And I have no trouble talking to anyone in confidence if they want to approach me.’
On the garda force:
‘An Garda Siochána is going through tremendous change. Between 2016 and 2021 there will be €269m invested and a lot of that will go into a new IT system. Pulse has a lot of add-ons but we are looking at a new system that will link with the courts and that has started already, but it will take time because it’s vital to get it right. A total of 500 new civilian positions are being created and that will free up our members to do other work too.’
On developments in Cork West:
‘We have a new property and exhibits store here and we have a new IT system for it and that will be fully operational in July. Every item of evidence will be bar-coded and we will have a PEMS (property exhibit management system) as part of that. That will free up a lot of garda time as there was a lot of time spent on documentation before. We are also setting up a Protective Services Unit for sexual and domestic violence offences, with a dedicated detective sergeant and detective garda, and it will liaise with Tusla. By the end of this year that will be up and running and that will create another 8-10 new positions overall.’
On the division’s vehicle fleet:
‘We now have a lot of good vehicles in the fleet and a great team looking after it. All vehicles work on a 300,000km end-of-life basis and then they are grounded. At about 280,000km it is brought to HQ’s attention. We use an IT system called Tranman that tells HQ when a car is coming to its end of life, and they can allocate another car to the division in time to replace it. We also have two traffic units, one in Bandon and one in Crookstown.’
On Bandon Flood Relief disruption:
‘We have a new Roads Policy Unit and we are preparing for the dredging of the river as part of the Bandon Flood Relief scheme. It will take three months and there will be 40 trucks operating between the river and Ballinadee. It is a major operation to keep traffic flowing so we will have systems in place with a lot of signage and diversions.’
On vulnerable coasts:
‘We have 300km of coastline – one of the biggest in the country – there are 30 or more ports where boats can come in, and a couple of hundred coves. It’s important if people know of anything, they tell us. We have a meeting soon with the CEO of the Coast Guard and we also meet regularly with the Civil Defence. Our inspectors and sergeants will be at the meetings – it’s also good for us to get to know each other.’
On the success of CCTV:
‘We had an excellent detection recently because of CCTV in Macroom and it is already working well in other towns. But there are some we still have to get funding for so we would ask all our local public representatives to row in behind us too. It definitely helps to reduce crime. Most businesses have it now but we need to have it in public areas too.’
On the success of Text Alert:
‘The Text Alert scheme, which has been a great success in West Cork, will also be expanded. There are still some pockets which don’t have it. The problem is, when crime drops, people can become complacent and they don’t attend the Community Alert or Neighbourhood Watch meetings. Unfortunately, sometimes it takes a few serious incidents for people to come back. But the text alert is working very well, especially when we send out descriptions of cars. People are great to respond and we have had some good detections that way. We had an incident in Cork at one point where a farmer, out spreading slurry, got the text alert just as he spotted the car that was described, acting suspiciously. As a result, we were able to intercept the car, after a chase to Roscrea, and three people were arrested. They had been linked with a lot of other crimes in the mid-Cork area.’