Ireland’s true crime rate has been cast into doubt as a damning two-year investigation of the Garda found it does not record all criminal activity and wrongly classifies significant numbers of offences.
The Garda Inspectorate, the force’s official watchdog, said the shortcomings were unacceptable in a 500-page expose which paints a poor picture of management and daily practices.
After an epic trawl of records, the watchdog said it was difficult to determine the scale of unrecorded crime, but suggested it could be around a quarter of all offences, based on evidence from other jurisdictions.
The report found nearly a third (30%) of all incidents on the force’s official record system Pulse – based on a sampling of 500 records – were not correctly classified.
There was insufficient detail in another 16% of the examined cases to determine whether or not the crime was properly recorded.
A “significant” number of crimes were wrongly recorded as non-crimes, it found, and therefore not handed over to the Central Statistics Office, which produces official crime figures.
The inspectorate said it reviewed 158 specific investigations.
Of these, only 114 were recorded on the Pulse system and just 90 were designated as a crime.
The watchdog said it disagreed with the classifications on a third (32%) of the cases, while there was not enough detail to decide on another 6%.
It has blamed “systemic failures” in the Garda for the mis-recording of crimes.
Also, crime detection rates – convictions for offences, or the number of solved cases – are lower than those claimed, it was found in the report, which includes more than 200 recommendations.
The inspectorate said this does not take into account that many crimes are not recorded on Pulse or are wrongly recorded under another classification.
“Crime must be recorded accurately, so that claimed detections are correct,” it states.
Furthermore, the investigation found particular problems with attitudes towards domestic violence within the force, finding some complaints were treated as a waste of time.
Some members displayed “negative attitudes” towards domestic violence by referring to calls as problematic, time-consuming and a waste of resources.
The investigation found domestic crime incidents recorded under non-crime categories.
It was found recorded levels of racist and homophobic crimes are very low.
It also criticised the investigation of serious crimes, including rape, child abuse, threats to life and aggravated burglaries by regular rank-and-file gardai.
“In other policing jurisdictions these types of crimes are usually investigated by trained detectives or officers assigned to specialist investigative units,” the report states.
Heaping further embarrassment on Garda top brass, the watchdog said some detectives are investigating complex crimes without any training specific to particular crimes.
There are around 700 untrained detectives operating within the force, a problem that needs to be addressed, it warns.
Such are the variances in workload from district to district, detectives in some areas of the country investigate 100 crimes a year while others have a caseload of less than 10.
Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald said the unsparing report raised “serious concerns” about the need for a “sea change” in policing in Ireland.
“Whatever the difficulties that have given rise to it, we now have a once-in-a-generation chance to modernise fundamentally An Garda Siochana to ensure we have a policing service equipped and ready to meet all the challenges of 21st century policing and which puts victims first,” she said.
She also announced that the CSO is to carry-out analysis of recording, classification and reclassification of crime on Garda Pulse system.
Minister Fitzgerald said she has held discussions with the Director General of the Central Statistics Office in relation to ensuring the integrity of published crime statistics.
The Minister stated: “Following my meeting, the CSO have now informed me that they are to carry-out a detailed analysis of certain issues raised by the Inspectorate in relation to the recording, classification and reclassification of crime on Garda Pulse system, to see whether and to what extent they may have implications for the crime statistics which that Office produces.
“This exercise will be of significant importance in helping to ensure and enhance the integrity of published crime statistics.”
Admitting “weaknesses” in the running of the force, Acting Garda Commissioner Noirin O’Sullivan was moved to reassure the public about reporting crime.
“I want to reassure all victims of crime that we will support them, take their complaints seriously, and that all complaints will be investigated,” she said.
Around 1,500 Pulse records were examined in detail as part of the Garda Inspectorate’s latest investigation into practices and management of the force.
More than 1,000 Garda officers were interviewed while investigators also spoke with police services in Northern Ireland, England, Scotland, Wales, Denmark, the US, Australia and New Zealand.
The watchdog said it has been forced to repeat many of its recommendations from earlier investigations, suggesting little or no action was taken to implement them.
However, it added the overall impression of the majority of the force was of dedicated and committed staff who are decent and hard-working.
On detection rates, the inspectorate found the actual rate was 26% - based on more than 2,000 cases reviewed - compared to the official figure of 43%, based on the Pulse system findings.
In six out of ten cases examined, the system said the crime was resolved the same day as it was reported.
It also found:
* nearly a third (30%) of neighbourhood watch, community alert schemes set up around the country are “dormant”
* a lack of consistency in criminal investigations with different decisions being made about similar cases from division to division
* a perceived lack of engagement between Garda chiefs and the rank and file
* “significant gaps” in frontline policing supervision
* Garda resources are not allocated in terms of policing need and crime levels
* a “significant number” of members in specialist duties and in Garda Headquarters
Robert K Olson, chief inspector of the Garda Inspectorate, which was set up to drive reforms of the force, said the findings should be viewed as a “watershed opportunity” to overhaul policing.
“Some of these recommendations have been made in previous Inspectorate reports, but haven’t been fully implemented, and are, as a result, even more urgent today,” he said.
“Our objective with this report is to help make the Garda Siochana a better service – better for the public, for victims of crime, for the members themselves, and for the criminal justice system in Ireland.”
As well as serious failures in the recording, classification and reclassification of crime incidents, the report criticises a lack of supervision of crime investigations, new rosters impacting on investigations and the time it takes the force to carry out investigations.
There were also significant issues highlighted about the lack of modern technology used by the force.