Less than half of all gardaí on duty were engaged in patrolling and high-visibility policing last year, an internal garda audit has found.
It revealed that an average of just 44% of gardaí were in direct contact with the public. The latest annual report of An Garda Siochána’s audit committee expressed concern about the “low” level of gardaí performing frontline duties.
The committee pointed out that both the force’s Policing Plan and the Garda Inspectorate have highlighted the importance of ensuring that the maximum number of gardaí are assigned to high visibility policing duties with “direct contact with the public.” They also recommend that administrative roles should be undertaken by civil servants to the fullest extent possible.
The chairman of the Garda audit committee, Cyril Sullivan, said the findings of an internal survey conducted last year were “very disappointing” in relation to the deployment of civilian staff to roles held by gardaí, especially as 90% of the Garda budget is spent on staffing.
“The committee would like to see greater results in respect of this strategy,” said Dr Sullivan.
Overall, it is estimated that 2,055 gardaí could be removed from desk duties as a result of a new “civilian by default” recruitment policy.
The latest available figures show a total of 49 gardaí have been returned to frontline policing by April 2018.
A Garda spokesman said the force had already accepted that the pace of redeployment had not been as fast as originally anticipated but that plans are in place to accelerate the process.
Commenting on the numbers engaged in fronting policing, he said: “The deployment of personnel on any given day in a division will depend on the policing requirements. Members not on patrol could be involved in other policing activity such as investigations, providing crime prevention advice and appearing in court.”
The Cork City division has been the biggest beneficiary, with six gardaí in the city returning to operational duties, followed by Dublin South Central with five gardaí.
In its most recently published quarterly report to the Minister for Justice in December 2017, the Policing Authority expressed disappointment at the lack of progress in the civilianisation of the force as figures showed only 14 gardaí at the time had been taken off desk duties and restored to frontline services.
It claimed there had been “a failure to make meaningful progress” on the issue.
Policing Authority chairwoman Josephine Feehily said they continued to be “concerned and frustrated with the lack of pace at which civilianisation and redeployment is happening”.
Following repeated requests for information on the subject from the Policing Authority, Garda management estimated at the start of 2017 that 163 gardaí should be able to return to frontline duties as a result of 500 civilian staff expected to be recruited last year.
Ultimately, only 122 civilian posts were filled.
Garda management submitted business cases for the recruitment of 410 staff, but only 154 had been sanctioned by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform.
Ms Feehily said a large number of business cases were only submitted late in 2017 with many lacking sufficient detail or quality.
The Garda watchdog also expressed concern that many serving gardaí have spoken with “some cynicism” about exercises aimed at redeployment.
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