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Connolly, Johnny (2006) Blanchardstown Dial to Stop Drug Dealing campaign. Drugnet Ireland , Issue 20, Winter 2006 , pp. 17-18.

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It is difficult to establish the number of crimes that go unreported to the police. Surveys of crime victims have been used in other jurisdictions to estimate this ‘dark figure’ of crime.1 For example, British Crime Surveys conducted at regular intervals since 1982 have led to estimates that only one in four of the crimes which occur appear in official records.2 Other authors have suggested that, when petty offences such as shoplifting are included, the ‘dark figure’ can be as high as eleven times the police figure.3 There is evidence to suggest that the ‘dark figure’ may be even higher in the case of drug offences and drug-related crime. A recent study conducted in Dublin’s north inner city highlighted fear of reprisal from those involved in the drug trade as a significant disincentive to reporting such offences to the gardaí.4

In a unique approach to addressing such problems, the Blanchardstown Local Drugs Task Force (BLDTF) set up a non-Garda confidential phone line to help gather information on local drug dealing. The launch of the campaign in May and June 2006 involved, in the initial two weeks, the distribution of 30,000 brochures, 250 in-store posters and a local media event. Weeks three and four focused on older children and younger adults in formal and informal educational and community sectors, while peer-education teams spoke in schools and community centres. Week five involved a retail initiative including over twenty businesses – supermarkets and fast food outlets – which agreed to distribute campaign literature.

The confidential number was free so as to encourage its use by older children and young adults. The number was also anonymous so people could be reassured that they would not be required to be involved in possible ensuing legal proceedings. The use of a non-Garda number was regarded as important as it was felt that, for some local residents, phoning a police number would be a serious barrier. The service was open 24 hours, seven days per week. Also, it was not necessary to have witnessed drug dealing directly. Callers were encouraged to call with second-hand information. The phone lines were managed by a professional call centre.

The report of the evaluation of the project was launched by Noel Ahern TD, Minister of State with responsibility for drugs strategy in November 2006.5 The report includes findings on the project from three sources: daily reports from the call center, a report from the Garda Síochána and a public survey of a sample of 250 people. Over the six-week period 296 calls were received. On foot of these, 100 detailed reports were sent to the gardai. The Garda evaluation indicated that 67% of these reports provided ‘somewhat useful or very useful’ information. Cocaine was the subject of 42% of reports, followed by cannabis (27%) and heroin (17%). These were followed by ecstasy (7%), prescription drugs (5%) and steroids at 2%. Of the reports that were followed up by the drugs unit of Blanchardstown Garda Station, 17% were referred to other Garda districts, 17% resulted in arrests with court cases pending, 7% were awaiting further information, 2% were being monitored and 59% were part of ongoing investigations. The gardaí concluded that the project had helped raise awareness of the drug situation in the area and had helped identify drug dealers unknown to them.

The survey of public opinion provided information on local attitudes to the drug situation and the future potential for the development of the campaign. Included among the survey findings were the following:

  • 89% of youths and 70% of adults regarded drugs as a ‘very’ or ‘somewhat’ serious problem.
  • 46% of youths and 37% of adults responded ‘yes definitely’ when asked whether the public should be encouraged to help gardaí with the drugs problem in Dublin 15.
  • More than half of the respondents spontaneously recalled the ‘dial to stop drug dealing campaign’. The highest level of recall of campaign literature was for the brochures delivered door-to-door.
  • That each call would be treated with absolute confidentiality was ‘very important’ for three quarters of the sample: 76% of youths and 73% of adults.
  • The motivation to call either a Garda or non-Garda confidential telephone line was similar for both youths and adults and primarily driven by community spirit.
  • The inhibitions about calling either confidential number related to a dislike or disregard for the gardai, concern about anonymity and confidentiality, a reluctance to get involved and fear of reprisal.

Drug markets and drug-related crime at a micro-level can lead to the creation of ‘no-go areas’, the development of a culture of fear and the erosion of the social bonds which contribute to community cohesion. They can also intensify the stigmatisation often felt in communities where such problems take hold.4 Initiatives such as the Blanchardstown ‘Dial to stop drug dealing’ project, by seeking to develop a response which is sensitive to local conditions, represent an innovative approach in this area. Although the local campaign was due to end in December 2006, the steering group overseeing the project has recommended that it be adapted and rolled out on a national basis. 

1.  For a general discussion on the issues which arise in the context of crime statistics, see Maguire M (1997) Crime statistics, patterns, and trends: Changing perceptions and their implications, in Mike Maguire, Rod Morgan and Robert Reiner (eds) The Oxford Handbook of Criminology. For an Irish perspective on drug-related crime see Connolly J (2006) Drugs and crime in Ireland. Overview 3. Dublin: Health Research Board.

2.  Hough J M and Mayhew P (1983) The British Crime Survey. Home Office Research Study No. 76. London: HMSO.

3.  Sparks R, Genn H and Dodd D (1977) Surveying victims. Chichester: John Wiley.

4.  Connolly J (2003) Drugs, crime and community in Dublin: Monitoring quality of life in the north inner city. Dublin:  North Inner City Drugs Task Force.

5.  Blanchardstown Local Drugs Task Force (2006) Blanchardstown Dial to Stop Drug Dealing: campaign evaluation executive summary report. Blanchardstown: BLDTF.

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