The Government has appointed a former head of the Garda inspectorate to lead the imminent root and branch review of the force, despite her being embroiled in a multi-million euro overtime and management US court case last year.
Kathleen O’Toole, who was confirmed as the chair of the commission on the future of policing in Ireland by cabinet yesterday, was at the centre of a $3m (€2.7m) lawsuit by junior officers in Seattle in summer 2016.
Ms O’Toole is a highly respected policing official who led the Garda inspectorate between 2006 and 2012, was a member of the Patten commission review of policing in Northern Ireland, and has been chief of police in Seattle since 2014.
In July 2016, Ms O’Toole was found by a 12-person jury in Seattle’s King County Superior Court to have retaliated against two senior officers who were transferred out of the area amid a dispute over the handling of overtime pay.
The jury found Ms O’Toole transferred a sergeant after she complained overtime pay had been improperly “steered” to four other officers and transferred a captain who opposed the sergeant’s move.
The case ultimately resulted in the sergeant receiving $1.9m in compensated overtime and the captain $932,000 as a result of the court case.
However, while Ms O’Toole is now concluding her work in Seattle in order to take up the Garda review role, the city attorney representing her at the case said she was not responsible for what happened as she had stepped into a chaotic situation where officials needed to “learn to communicate better”.
Ms O’Toole’s new role as the chair of the Government’s root and branch review will see her take up the position in the coming weeks.
While the exact terms of reference for the review, and at least eight other members of the commission, will not be decided until next week’s cabinet meeting, a significant number of details about the scope of the review have already been released.
These include the likely 15-month timescale, the fact it will consider a historic splitting of policing and security systems, structural and recruitment reforms, and an examination of the role of Garda management.
The review, which was called for in response to the recent phantom breath tests and wrongful traffic convictions controversies, is also likely to focus on accountability, leadership, management capacity, and the culture and ethos of the gardaí.
In addition, it will examine the Garda Ombudsman, the Policing Authority, and the department’s interactions with officers over a number of years.
While there are some opposition party concerns over the non-statutory nature of the review — which could allow officers to reject requests for information in certain circumstances — Government figures have previously said this is unlikely to happen as gardaí have a long history of supplying all records to inquiries.
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