Limerick people will be getting used to the sight of Gardaí using smartphones, thanks to a new technological pilot programme, which Metropolitan Mayor Sean Lynch believes will “see more Gardaí on the beat.”
Cllr Lynch was speaking at last Friday’s Joint Policing Committee meeting at Henry Street, just one day after the new ACTIVE Mobility strategy was rolled out. Limerick is the first city and county in Ireland that will have Garda personnel using mobile devices during the six-month trial.
“The initiative came to the Chief here to see if he was interested in implementing it,” added Cllr Lynch, who chairs the Joint Policing Committee. He complimented Chief Superintendent Dave Sheahan, who spent significant time researching how such technology was implemented in other jurisdictions, visiting the UK and US.
The Chief Superintendent has been working in tandem with Tim Willoughby, Head of Digital Services and Innovation at An Garda Síochána, over the past year. “The station is now mobile,” said Mr. Willoughby, addressing the committee.
The early stage of the project has 50 members of An Garda Síochána who volunteered to participate in the scheme. Each is equipped with a highly encrypted smartphone, although Mr. Willoughby expects that “we’ll end up trying a number of different devices during the life of this project. Depending on your role, it might be more appropriate to bring a 10” tablet.”
Over time, new apps will come on stream for Garda use. A pilot traffic application can currently tell a car’s tax status. In the new year, this will include NCT and insurance details, and any additional relevant driver information.
Part of this high-tech policing comes in the form of two new smart Garda cars. Chief Superintendent Sheahan informed the committee that these will be located at Newcastle West and Roxboro Garda Stations.
“These active cars have huge connectivity,” said Mr. Willoughby. The cars have the ability to amplify mobile signals with speeds of “25MB up and down anywhere we tried in Limerick. The car is providing a wi-fi hotspot that members can use as a back-up, particularly in more rural areas.”
The new project received its debut on the Dock Road last Thursday night (7 December), with the Chief Superintendent attending. “It worked a dream. In a half hour, we got a number of cars without tax for anywhere from one month up to 12 months, one drink-driver, and one driver without insurance,” commented Chief Superintendent Sheahan.
While he told the committee that a great deal of the initial focus is on traffic, those participating are “spread across the board.”
“Post-pilot we are going to take a break, and do a business plan to go large. Everyone will feel that they should have it immediately across the country, and the role of the Chief and myself is to manage expectations,” added Tim Willoughby.
He does sees the strategy developing over the next three years, with technological aids such as body cams potentially being introduced, subject to legislation changes.
In the interim, Chief Superintendent Dave Sheahan believes that there are real gains to be made through taking such efficient measures, freeing up Gardaí to focus on more policing matters. “It’s the equivalent of saving one Garda per entire division by just checking registrations alone,” he stated.