herald

Monday 17 December 2018

'Unknown' police who protect passengers and planes in their own small town-sized territory

Ronan Cassidy (left), Sgt Niamh Regan and Trevor Giltrap patrol the ‘town sized’ Dublin Airport
Ronan Cassidy (left), Sgt Niamh Regan and Trevor Giltrap patrol the ‘town sized’ Dublin Airport

ONE of Ireland's highest-ranking female airport police off-icers has admitted she "loves a challenge".

Duty Sergeant Niamh Regan, who joined the Airport Police Service 21 years ago, said her job is "like no other".

"Every single day is different, a new challenge - and it's non-stop," she said.

"This is basically policing a town. The airport is vast, and we patrol every part of it."

Sgt Regan began her career at Dublin Airport 23 years ago - in retail.

In 1994, aged 20, she took two years to go from the shopping aisles to arresting troublemakers at one of Europe's biggest airports as a member of the small police force.

powers

To those on the outside, the Airport Police Service is still fairly unknown.

It was launched in 1936 to protect Irish airports, and today 108 staff patrol Dublin Airport alone, 86 of them men and 22 women.

More women are becoming attracted to the role and joining the ranks.

Officers have the same powers of arrest, search and detention as gardai - powers granted by the Minister for Transport under the Air Navigation Act.

But as they patrol only the campus and help to ensure the safe operation of Dublin Airport, much of their work fails to hit the headlines.

New recruits go through a rigorous process, with physical, psychometric and competency tests to prepare them for any situation that can arise at the airport.

In other cases, officers have helped to save lives. The airport has had a huge number of "saves". Many defibrillators on site have given cardiac arrest victims the best possible chance of survival.

For Sgt Regan, the switch from selling to policing was a natural progression.

"I loved the working environment in the airport," she said, "but I didn't know anything about the airport police back then.

"As soon as I saw them, I wanted to know more. A lot of people come to work at the airport for the summer and never leave. Some of them end up with us.

"We're like a family, and I think that's what keeps people here.

"There's no other job like this. I remember one young recruit saying he was exhausted when he got home at night - but that's the job."

Public order is one of the main problems dealt with by airport officers.

This includes passengers who have drunk too much alcohol on a flight and cause problems that need to be addressed when the plane touches down.

Airport police also detect drug offences and other crimes.

Officer Ronan Caffrey (34), a father-of-two from Templeogue, who joined the force a year ago, said: "We've been trained to deal with a wide range of situations. Our primary concern is always to make sure everyone is safe.

"We are constantly vigilant and maintain a high presence both landside and airside. One of the most important things for us is visibility."

The job entails so much more than simply being a police officer.

Sgt Regan said: "Sometimes when people see a uniform, it's a responsible person for them to talk to, and if there's a problem we're the ones who can stop situations worsening.

"But sometimes, it takes a more human approach."

problems

Most members of the team remember a point when they have had to bring a more humane face to the job.

Handling members of the public with mental health problems, for example, is a growing part of the work.

Officer Trevor Giltrap (46), from Santry, recalls one incident that has remained with him.

"I got a call from retail workers and went down to see. There was a man on the floor who had really hurt himself," he said.

"We got him help, but it was all we could do. These incidents have become more common in recent years and we get those people help."

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