As the Deputy will be aware, and as I have reiterated, the distribution of gardaí is exclusively the statutory responsibility of the Garda Commissioner for the time being. Undoubtedly, the ongoing recruitment process will support all Garda activities and will enhance Garda visibility within our communities and the provision of effective community policing across all Garda divisions.
Community policing is at the heart of An Garda Síochána. It provides a means of recognising that every community, both urban and rural, has its own concerns and expectations. I am assured by the Commissioner that the Garda national model of community policing plays a key part in responding to crime by taking into account and responding to local conditions and needs. Clear objectives are set, such as high visibility in the community, ease of contact by members of the public and enhanced support for crime prevention strategies. In addition, the national community policing office, attached to the Garda community relations bureau, captures best practice in community policing initiatives and disseminates these practices through its communication network. It is of course the case that all gardaí have a role to play in community policing in carrying out their duties, not solely those assigned full-time as community gardaí.
I have previously stated that I welcome the strong emphasis that the Commissioner's Modernisation and Renewal Programme 2016-2021 places on developing and supporting the community policing ethos of the organisation and enhancing the current delivery model so that gardaí spend more time in the community, gaining public confidence and trust and providing a greater sense of security. It will result in the introduction of multi-skilled community policing teams and community policing forums in every district.
In terms of progress on this important initiative, I am informed that a draft community policing framework which outlines the manner in which community policing teams and community safety forums will be established has been completed and is subject to internal review before being approved by the Garda executive for implementation.
The Government is committed to ensuring a strong and visible police presence throughout the country in order to maintain and strengthen community engagement, provide reassurance to citizens and deter crime. To make this a reality for all, the Government has in place a plan for an overall Garda workforce of 21,000 personnel by 2021 including 15,000 Garda members.
Real, tangible progress has been made towards this goal. Since reopening the Garda College in September 2014, nearly 1,600 new recruits have attested as members of An Garda Síochána and have been assigned to mainstream duties nationwide. Garda numbers, taking account of projected retirements, increased to 13,551 at the end of 2017, a net increase of over 600 since the end of 2016. There were 691 Garda assigned to community policing duties as of 31 December 2017.
I am pleased to say that funding is in place to maintain this high level of investment in the Garda workforce to ensure the vision of an overall workforce of 21,000 by 2021 remains on track. This year a further 800 new Garda recruits will enter the Garda College. Also, 800 Garda trainees are scheduled to attest during the year, which will see Garda numbers reach more than 14,000 by the end of 2018.
Of course Deputies will appreciate that despite these increases, choices have to be made. Containing the challenges of coverage and those presented by gangland crime over the past two years has necessitated investment in the specialist units with 100 extra garda being assigned to the specialist units within special crime operations in 2017. In addition, a dedicated armed support unit for the Dublin metropolitan region was established at the end of 2016 in order to enhance armed support capability in Dublin and to free up the resources of the emergency response unit.