On a sunny Thursday afternoon on Parnell Street in Dublin city centre, Amjad Malik sits behind perspex glass at the cash register in Star Asia grocery shop serving customers.
In front of Malik, a wide range of fruits and vegetables are displayed. To his right, aisles packed full of food, spices, sauces and other items stretch towards the back of the shop.
Malik — who has owned and operated Star Asia for the past seven years — is jovial and relaxed with each customer as they approach the till.
In between serving them, he watches a video on his phone.
The video — seen by Dublin Inquirer — is a recording of Star Asia’s CCTV footage from the evening of Tuesday 8 September. It shows a male, dressed in black with the bottom part of his face obscured, threatening staff with something in his hand and trying to grab the cash register from where Malik now sits.
Each time the staff member on duty that night tries to stop what’s happening, the male lunges at him, brandishing what Malik says was the top of a broken glass bottle.
Standing at the entrance of the shop is another male dressed in purple, who appears to be recording the entire incident on his phone.
Eventually, the male pulls the register free of its wiring and tries to run, but is chased by the worker. He drops the till at the entrance of the shop as he flees.
Malik turns his head up from his phone after the video is finished.
“That’s the behaviour we’re getting here,” he says. “What worse can we get than that?”
Malik says he called Gardaí and provided them with the CCTV footage, but that nothing has been done to help him.
Gardaí confirmed the incident and said that three men were later arrested nearby in relation to the incident. The three were released without charge and Gardaí say investigations are ongoing.
A spokesperson for An Garda Síochána say that there has been no reduction in the number of gardaí patrolling the streets in Dublin’s city centre as a result of Covid-19. But this incident, along with others, points towards what some business owners and councillors say is a rising level of anti-social behaviour and crime in the city in recent months.
Trouble on Parnell Street
Up the road from Malik’s shop, at the Centra on the corner of Moore Street, Noel Dunne says that anti-social behaviour and crime has worsened in his shop and the area since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“[Anti-social behaviour is] always an ongoing issue in the city centre anyway, but I find it — we all have found it — a lot worse during lockdown,” he says.
Dunne, the owner of the shop, says an incident involving a woman trying to steal a bottle of vodka occurred on Tuesday, 8 September. When confronted by staff and security, Dunne says she assaulted them before being removed from the shop.
Gardaí confirmed the incident, adding that it left one staff member with facial injuries, and say that the 20-year-old woman was arrested a short time later and the matter is now before the courts.
For Dunne, shoplifting, as well as people becoming increasingly violent when confronted by staff are the main issues facing his store.
“I’m putting that down to people’s mental health during Covid-19. You can see a difference in people, they seem to lose their temper quicker,” he says.
Dunne says that there are one or two incidents in the shop every day, and that he is in regular communication with Gardaí. Although he says they are very responsive when called, he’s noticed fewer of them on the streets in recent weeks.
“At the start of Covid I seemed to notice more guards walking the beat. We haven’t seen that sort of presence in the last few weeks now,” he says.
In a statement, Gardaí said that its city centre divisions work closely with the business community in the area and that throughout Covid-19 they have implemented a high visibility policing plan under Operation Navigation.
Operation Navigation is a Garda operation that began in July of this year and focuses on businesses complying with and adhering to Covid-19 regulations.
The statement also referenced Operation Soteria, an assault reduction strategy launched last year, which is “aimed at preventing assaults occurring, through targeted, timely patrols and engaging with community partners to promote personal safety,” according to the website of An Garda Síochána.
Garda crime figures are published for each quarter by the Central Statistics Office (CSO).
However, since 2017, these stats have come with a disclaimer that they do not meet the CSO’s standards. The figures are based on data recorded on the Gardaí’s PULSE (Police Using Leading Systems Effectively) system.
According to the CSO website “there has been a number of data quality issues identified in relation to PULSE data,” however it goes on to say that “a deferral of these important statistics result in an information gap.”
With that in mind, the latest available figures released by the CSO are for the first quarter of 2020 which covers January, February and March of this year. These months encompass a period of about two weeks in which Covid-19 restrictions were in place in Ireland.
The statistics for the Dublin Metropolitan Region (DMR) division of north central, which covers Parnell Street and north inner-city show slight decreases in the number of assaults and thefts compared with the same period last year.
In the first quarter of 2019, there were a total of 677 thefts from shops recorded by Gardaí, compared with 606 in the first quarter 2020. There were a total of 315 assaults recorded in the first quarter of 2019, compared with 264 in the first quarter of 2020. Meanwhile criminal damage to properties and controlled drug offences in the DMR north central area were up slightly in 2020 compared to 2019.
In June, Gardaí released figures on crimes from the months of March, April and May, showing significant reductions in crime when compared with the same period last year.
According to these figures, there was a 39 percent drop in retail thefts from 2019 to 2020. However, these statistics cover the entire country and a breakdown by division is not available.
The CSO was not involved in the publication of these figures. The figures for quarter two in 2020 covering the period from April to June, will be published by the CSO on 29 September.
Perceived Rise in Crime
Business owners like Dunne and Malik and a number of councillors feel that crime in the city centre is rising.
Independent Councillor Anthony Flynn says that he has written to both the Garda Commissioner Drew Harris and the chief superintendent for the DMR north central division over the past week in relation to anti-social behaviour in the city.
Flynn says the issue is twofold: crime is rising but also becoming more visible as the city is emptier that it usually would be.
“We’re seeing more and more of an increase in anti-social behaviour than what was there before and I think it’s evident by the lack of people that are in the city centre,” says Flynn.
He says the reduction in the number of tourists and people in the city centre since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic meant that anti-social behaviour, crime and public drug taking was more visible.
In a statement, Gardaí say there has been no reduction in garda numbers in the city centre divisions since the Covid-19 pandemic. The statement also said that sections of the National Public Order Unit were deployed full-time in the Dublin region during the Covid-19 pandemic and they continue to be deployed on a case by case basis.
Flynn says the biggest issue from his perspective is a lack of community policing in the area and that an increased garda presence on the streets is needed.
He also criticises the fact that the Joint Policing Committee (JPC) — a forum in which local authority officials, senior gardaí, elected councillors and members of the community — has not met properly since before the Covid-19 pandemic.
Independent Councillor Cieran Perry — chairman of the Central Area JPC — echoes Flynn’s concerns around anti-social behaviour.
“We’re noticing in quite a few areas a fairly significant increase in visible anti-social behaviour,” he says.
Perry says he had hoped that a JPC meeting would have been held in July, but because of Covid-19 restrictions and issues with garda availability, it has not happened yet.
The citywide JPC was due to meet on Tuesday 22 September, for the first time since December 2019. However councillors agreed to postpone the meeting as no gardaí were present.
A spokesperson for Dublin City Council says all JPCs are due to meet this month, but Perry says he still does not have a fixed date for the next meeting. Gardaí say they understand a meeting may be scheduled in early October 2020.
Perry, Flynn and Dunne, the owner of Centra, all say that the Gardaí did a commendable job during the Covid-19 pandemic in assisting people in their homes while the strict lockdown measures were in place.
However, all agree that now a more visible garda presence on the streets of the city was needed to tackle crime.
We’re long enough into the pandemic that people really need to see the garda presence on the street and effective action to tackle what’s going on,” says Perry.
Noel Dunne agrees: “There’s nothing like guards on foot walking around, it’s what puts fellas off. Without a shadow of a doubt,” he says. He says that many businesses on Parnell Street are suffering due to increased crime.
Gardaí said that since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic a new roster has been in place in order to maximise operational availability and support by Gardaí. It said that the changes to the roster ensure that each division within the DMR has enough personnel available 24 hours a day.
For Shashi Reddy, the owner of the Quik Pick Convenience Store, on Ryder’s Row just off Parnell Street, crime has gone down in recent months along with footfall.
“We are feeling the crime has gone down compared to before. Before, like every day, almost, I used to lose €5 to €10 easily,” he says.
He says things have improved significantly in recent months and the Gardaí have been helpful and responsive.
Back in Star Asia foods, Malik feels differently. He has seen his business reduce also, but shoplifting and violence has gone up and feels he has gotten no support from authorities.
“Every day they come, evening time, they rob things, they beat the people. Beat the people outside on the street. Nobody comes in evening time in this area,” he says.
Malik feels that Gardaí are not doing enough to stop people committing crimes, and that as a business owner he feels unprotected. The fact that no charges have yet been brought in relation to the recent incident where his staff were threatened and his till robbed further highlights this issue for him.
“The police don’t do anything against the people, that’s the reason. If they’re doing something against them, so why do they come again?” he says.