THE GUARDS (2 Part Series- RTE ) Produced by Barry O Kelly – Zucca Films
The Guards opens with the sound of police sirens in Dublin city, quickly followed by the breaking down of a door by Garda officers who repeatedly roar, ‘Gardaí, open up,’ to no avail. The target is a flat in the inner city. Behind the door are suspected drug dealers.
The gambit for the programme is the reality of policing in the city with cameras taking to the streets. ‘Expect the unexpected,’ says a female Garda during the opening segment. All of which sets the viewer up for an in-depth look at An Garda Siochana and how they go about their business.
Why these programmes capture the public imagination isn’t new. Viewing danger and being exposed to the dark and murky nature of individuals through our television screens, all within the safety and comfort of our own homes, is certainly a draw. Coupled with this, there are all the police-themed programmes, both documentary and fictional dramas, produced at home and abroad, which sets The Guards up to be a winner. However, quickly into the 1-hour film, some things feel wrong.
The soft sultry tones of the voice-over may have been chosen to avoid turning the programme into a hyped version of reality, but whatever the reason, it contributed to a feeling that the viewer was getting a sanitised, safe and carefully structured reflection of policing in the city. Grey-haired senior police officers sitting in a row viewing on-screen data added further to this sense of being fed selected information instead of getting down and dirty.
If it had been called a documentary on ‘drugs in the city’ it would have succeeded, as we certainly see the arduous life of policing fighting drugs with an endless stream of calls, reports, street observations and incidents that happen in their tens of thousands within Dublin North Central (the location where the filming took place). The police echoed what many others believe, that the vast majority of crimes are fuelled by the seemingly impossible drug epidemic. ‘What you see,’ one officer said, speaking about drug addicts, ‘is a lesson in how not to live your life.’
The programme starts to turn into something new with the introduction of the beady-eyed, plain-clothed senior officer in charge of nailing the north city drug pushers. He stands in front of a series of wall monitors, each with a different camera view of the streets, looking like a panther about to pounce. You can almost feel the tension in his body and the rush of adrenalin as he takes in the smallest of movements – a dealer putting a ball of heroin into a back pocket, or, if he suspects the police have spotted him, into his mouth. You begin to get the sense that you are really seeing things as they are.
This feeling of reality continues when the dealer is caught and the momentary success of getting another bad guy off the streets is dashed. Despite being convicted of three counts of dealing; the offender gets a suspended sentence. Reality isn’t always entertaining, nor is the message that the work of the police and the follow up judicial system, often fails.
An excerpt of two female officers, one a reserve Garda, being attacked, isn’t easy to watch, but when the officers are praised for returning to duty the following day, it begs the question was the footage chosen for the nature of the attack or because they were female?
Catching the bad guys isn’t easy, nor is putting them away. Whatever the pros and cons of this two-part film are, the viewer is left in no doubt that the dangers on the streets are real, whether they are blood-filled syringes, pushers, or desperate people willing to do desperate things.