Big plans for policing — but getting them done is the biggest challenge

From gardaí on the street to the top job in Irish policing, all roles may see a change in the coming years, says Cormac O’Keeffe.

Big plans for policing — but getting them done is the biggest challenge

From gardaí on the street to the top job in Irish policing, all roles may see a change in the coming years, says Cormac O’Keeffe.

There is something for everyone — almost — in the much-anticipated report of the Policing Commission.

From the concerns of local communities and the need for more policing to addressing the pressing needs of gardai on the beat, it is there.

From strengthening the hand of the commissioner to boosting oversight powers (though it takes away in some areas), it is also there.

There are also some radical proposals in the 100 pages of the ‘Future of Policing in Ireland’ report. It has been described as a bird’s eye view of policing and its future but it does dive down to street level for a closer look.

Street-level view

Commission chairwoman Kathleen O’Toole said the message was clear from everyone, citizens and police, they spoke to: They wanted more gardaí in their community.

“Wherever we went in the country to talk to gardaí, we heard that there was a shortage of frontline police,” she said.

The report says local police should have a new focus of “preventing harm”, rather than just reacting to crime, and that this had to be explicitly stated as a core objective of policing.

Community policing should now be provided by a new ‘district policing model’. Districts, of which there are 96, are the basic geographical and administrative unit of the organisation.

“In our new district policing model, all police service personnel at district level, sworn and non-sworn [civilians], should be considered to be community police,” states the report.

“All should see themselves as part of a single district policing team working to keep their communities safe. All should see their overarching collective function as solving problems affecting community safety in their district.”

It says that while gardaí enjoy “respect and affection” in communities, there is an attitude within the police of being “in some way apart from the community”.

It says that while frontline members were struck by a “strong sense of duty and public service”,

among frontline members

they felt they were “at the bottom of a hierarchical, overly bureaucratic organisation that did not listen to them”.

The report states: “One garda told us he felt he should be wearing a school uniform rather than a police one, as the organisation treated him like a child.”

On how important the role of frontline policing is for both the garda and the community, the report says: “Frontline district police work needs to be respected and recognised in a way that it is not at present.”

It says district police should be backed up by divisional detective and specialist teams for serious crime. For the new model to work, the report recommends:

  • An urgent ‘tooling up’ of frontline members with modern, mobile technology;
  • Making multi-agency local teams a reality in form of divisional crisis intervention teams;
  • Removing gardaí from a host of non-essential duties, such as prosecutions and inquest work, security work at courts, prisoner transport, serving summonses, attending minor traffic accidents, verification of passports, and safeguarding examination papers
  • It says gardaí must engage in “genuine community partnerships”.
  • It recognises the successes of Garda specialist units against organised crime, but recommends an “urgent, thorough overhaul of the entire crime investigation function”.
  • It calls for an “urgent review” on internet crime and a substantial expansion of the Garda National Cyber Crime Bureau.

In relation to training, it says the organisation has not treated it as a “critical function”: “The neglect of training has extended to fundamental functions of policing.”

The report says policing is an “unusually stressful job” and recommends a “wellness programme” and mandatory counselling after traumatic incidents. It says long-standing issues affecting the working conditions of the front line, such as rosters and uniforms, should be addressed as a “matter of urgency”.

Bird’s eye view

Before getting into the major structural issues, a key task of the commission was to examine the shady, and nebulous, area of State security.

The Irish Examiner revealed key elements in these recommendations last week, including a new centre for gathering intelligence from all the key agencies and the creation of a national security co-ordinator who would report directly to the Taoiseach. This represents a significant shakeup of the security infrastructure but is nowhere near the proposal, from some quarters, of setting up a powerful security agency that would remove the role from the gardaí.

While the gardaí will have a new layer over it, the report also recommends strengthening the Garda Security and Intelligence section, with a ring-fenced budget and the capacity to directly recruit specialist staff — something that should be done “as a matter of urgency”.

The report calls for a comprehensive review of national security legislation and the creation of an independent examiner of terrorist and serious crime legislation, again reporting to the Taoiseach.

On broader structural reform, there is a lot of detail, some not entirely clearly, and some definite surprises (shock in some quarters).

While it gives with one hand to the main oversight bodies — the Policing Authority and Garda Inspectorate (now combined into a Policing and Community Safety Oversight Commission — it appears to take away with the other hand.

The commission has recommended that the power to appoint senior officers, from superintendent rank up, which was only recently given to the Policing Authority, should be taken back off it and given to the commissioner.

This goes against the trend of recent times in bringing appointments away from being an internal issue, because of persistent beliefs of nepotism and favouritism playing a role.

The report says: “The commissioner should have the power to appoint the members of his or her own leadership team.”

It says this is required to enable the Garda commissioner to take over the expanded functions (financial and HR) recommended by the Policing Commission — that the commissioner should be both a police chief and chief executive.

This will be a shock to the authority, along with the recommendation that a new statutory Garda Síochána Board be set up, with an independent non-executive chairperson appointed by the Government.

This body would have a key role in determining policing priorities and strategies and take from the authority the right to make nominations to Government for appointments to Garda commissioner and deputy commissioner.

The report further states that the commissioner would remain “accountable” to the minister for justice.

It says the board would have responsibility for internal governance, while the Policing and Community Safety Oversight Commission would conduct independent oversight of policing. It wants the board set up as quickly as possible.

This recommendation regarding the board created the only public internal minority divergence, from Vicky Conway and Eddie Molloy, who disagreed with the board, believing the role should remain with the authority.

The report says the Department of Justice would retain a function in structural oversight of police and the oversight bodies and policing and security policy, but not internal management.

It says it heard from people that investigations by the GSOC tend to have a “punitive” approach and recommended it should investigate incidents rather than individual gardaí.

It says the complaints regime needs an “urgent overhaul”. It recommends the body be renamed the Independent Office of the Police Ombudsman and be able to investigate non-sworn gardaí as well as retired members for both criminal and non-criminal cases.

The body should be adequately resourced and legislation introduced to allow it to be investigated too.

Implementation

Ms O’Toole said setting up an implementation group for policing reform is the first priority, with a timeframe of 2022 for the substantial reform of the organisation.

Getting that group up and running is just the first of many obstacles ahead.

The report’s recommendations have not been costed. In many areas, there is a lack of detail or figures.

In some areas — such as removing gardaí from the courts and prosecutions and setting up multi-agency crisis intervention teams — the reforms are radical and could take a long time to implement.

In other areas, the structural oversight reforms appear on first reading to pose potential problems and confusion. Spanners may be thrown into the works in the Oireachtas. Legislation will have to be carefully created.

Then there is the mammoth reform programme under way, the various Garda Inspectorate recommendations, and the Garda’s own modernisation and renewal programme. What happens to them?

The Government, and future governments, and departments have to digest it and have a major role in implementation — in what actually happens.

Initial reaction from many groups has been good, positive even. That, in itself, is a start.

Technology

The report recommends that An Garda Síochána develop apps that allow the public to report concerns and that produce “regular, and eventually realtime, open data feeds to the public”.

To this end, the report recommends the implementation of a strategy that would see all Garda districts use social media and technology tools to engage with their communities, along with the redevelopment of the Garda website “to enable transparent and seamless processes such as non-urgent crime reporting, case tracking and enhanced tools for victim support”.

While describing Pulse as “outdated”, the report recommends using the data on the existing system to feed new software and mobile apps for gardaí as part of a modernisation of the force’s technology, and moving processes and businesses to a cloud computing environment.

It further calls for the deployment of “a modern and nationwide computeraided dispatch system” and “a realtime crime and safety centre” at Garda HQ that would combine to produce a digital dashboard that will “provide senior leadership with real-time awareness of the location and condition of all assets and resources”.

- Compiled by Joe Leogue

Education

The Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland has recommended that An Garda Síochána should bring about organisational changes that encourage and facilitate the further education and continuous professional development of members of the force.

It calls for the appointment of an expert director for learning and development who would have a ring-fenced budget.

Some new recruits with a third-level degree should be fast-tracked through training in Templemore, where their education would only focus on learning the operational policing skills they require to move onto work experience in stations, while others will get “topup” modules.

Those without such qualifications, meanwhile, should be sponsored by An Garda Síochána “to acquire a degree-level qualification in policing studies”.

The report recommends a continuing professional development (CPD) strategy that would see every member have a personal CPD plan and frequent meetings with their manager “to assess their performance and competencies, identify learning and development needs, and outline career and educational objectives”.

— Compiled by Joe Leogue

Governance

An Garda Síochána should have a statutory board overseeing its governance, and the role of commissioner should be akin to a chief executive “with full responsibility for the human, financial and other resources of the organisation”, according to the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland. The report envisions a commissioner with the power to hire his or her own leadership team on fixed contracts of no more than five years.

The commission recommends that the new board will include “senior people from the business and professional sectors with relevant expertise”, with an independent, non-executive chair, appointed by the Government following an open process. It will have oversight on the appointments and promotions processes — currently within the remit of the Policing Authority — and these should be managed transparently and in line with common practice in the public sector.

Under these recommendations, the commissioner ultimately will have control of the management of the police estate, the budget to maintain it — and the operational independence of the Garda commissioner will be made explicit in legislation.

— Compiled by Joe Leogue

Courts

Gardaí should be relieved of court and inquest duties, freeing them up to police on the frontline, according to Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland.

It notes that the amount of time gardaí spend in court or preparing for court “is enormously wasteful of police resources that should be deployed on core police duties”. It recommends that all prosecution decisions should be taken away from the police and the practice of police prosecuting cases in court should also cease. These roles, it suggests, would be assumed by an expanded State solicitor or national prosecution service.

The Courts Service should make its own arrangements for serving summonses, while the Prison Service should take responsibility for prisoner escorts, with exceptions made for dangerous prisoners.

The commission notes that when it comes to inquests, gardaí are required to fulfill tasks that can create an overlap between criminal investigations and inquests, and to fulfill tasks for which they are not trained.

It recommends a reform of the coroner system so that gardaí no longer perform inquest functions.

— Compiled by Joe Leogue

Data

The Commission on the Future of Policing’s report has identified an “urgent need to address the quality of the crime data in Ireland” — and recommends the appointment of a senior officer to oversee this issue “as soon as possible”.

This chief data officer “should play a strategic role in the senior team of An Garda Síochána”, according to the Commission.

This data review would also address the way in which police record crime investigations, and the commission recommends an enlargement of the Garda Analysis Service that would see analysts based in all Garda divisions as well as centrally.

New recruits should also undertake modules to train them on the capture, analysis and use of data, and a review of garda data collection and management should include an analysis of the capture and classification of data relating to internet crimes.

The report also calls for a review of An Garda Síochána’s current status under Freedom of Information legislation “to determine whether to broaden the access to information held by the organisation”.

— Compiled by Joe Leogue

Human rights

The Commission on the Future of Policing says Human Rights must be “embedded in the thinking, ethos and operations” of An Garda Síochána at all levels. It has warned that there “needs to be clarity and transparency about police powers and codes of practice as to how to exercise those powers”, which should be based in legislation.

The commission recommends legislation defining police powers of arrest, search and detention should be codified, with statutory codes of practice.

It suggests the establishment of a high-level Human Rights Unit, which would include legal expertise, that would implement and monitor a comprehensive strategy for human rights compliance, protection and promotion.

Human rights training should be “the starting point” of the Garda recruit course, the commission recommends, and should remain a theme running through every aspect of training.

“Periodic in-service training should be given to all gardaí on human rights matters. All training materials should be reviewed and adapted to ensure that they are consistent with human rights law,” the commission reports.

— Compiled by Joe Leogue

More in this section

IE_180_logo
Price info

Subscribe to unlock unlimited digital access.
Cancel anytime.

Terms and conditions apply

ieFood pic
ieFood Logo

In the Kitchen with

 Video Series

Join Colm O'Gorman in his kitchen as he makes flatbreads in minutes and crispy air fryer chicken. Explore why he thinks chilli is the spice of life, and find out why his 50-year-old food mixer is his most important piece of kitchen equipment. Friday, September 17, 12pm

Puzzles logo
IE-logo

Puzzles hub

Visit our brain gym where you will find simple and cryptic crosswords, sudoku puzzles and much more. Updated at midnight every day. PS ... We would love to hear your feedback on the section right HERE.

great irish summer

From walking and hiking, to day trips and camping, your guide to holidays at home in 2021

Lifestyle
Newsletter

The best food, health, entertainment and lifestyle content from the Irish Examiner, direct to your inbox.

Sign up