High levels of concern were expressed at the annual conference of the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors at an upsurge in publishing photographs of gardaí online and subsequent efforts to identify them, their family and their home address.
“We had a member come to us and his child was approached on a football field after the father was identified on social media,” Sergeant Pat Baldwin of Kilkenny branch told the conference.
“The child was approached by a particular person and told ‘your father is a scumbag because he policed a protest’.”
Sgt Baldwin added: “We had another case where a member was approached by a friend of his and told ‘you better see what’s on social media’. And the member then had to go and tell his mother and father not to get upset and that they could do nothing about it anyway.”
Inspector Jerry Bergin, of Dublin South Central, said there was an increasing number of cases where people were “provocatively” placing media devices in the faces of gardaí who were performing their duty.
“The footage is subsequently edited and placed on media networks,” he said. “This is a substantial misrepresentation of the issue at hand. It’s grossly unfair and leads to injustice.”
While the National Union of Journalists was concerned the motion could impinge on freedom of the press, he said his proposal was not aimed at the media, who were governed by legislation and obliged to be balanced. There were no such regulations for people seeking to film or photograph gardaí for the purposes of identifying and intimidating them, he said.
Footage was posted on social media and other users were encouraged to identify the gardaí and their family members and post home addresses and even schools their children attend.
Sgt Tom McIntyre, Kiltimagh station in the Mayo district of Claremorris, said: “The criminal fraternity and social deviants have decided that the police is fair game to be targeted because of their employment and the duties they are expected to carry out.”
“The material placed online ranges from photos of our members while they are carrying out their duties to character assassination and slanderous comments. More sinister is the willingness to attack our families,” he added.
Sgt Baldwin said some members were not able to perform their duties. “Family life is hugely affected,” he said. “Sickness, depression and the feeling of not being able to protect one’s own family follows.”
A motion was passed calling on the Commissioner to protect and support members and to develop a communications strategy to remove such online posts.
The conference also heard that gardaí don’t have regular access to laptops so they can upload CCTV to help them identify suspects.
Inspector John O’Driscoll, Dundrum Garda Station, Dublin, said gardaí don’t have access to up-to-date CCTV viewing software and that they also have to use their own personal laptops, borrow colleagues’ equipment or drive to the nearest station where there is a laptop available.