An analysis of cases over the course of three years shows the public might have “lost faith” in the Garda Siochana Ombudsman Commission (Gsoc).
The research also queried whether sanctions in cases where allegations against gardaí were proven were “less than expected, or not in proportion with the misbehaviour shown”.
Most complainants are as likely to be a homeowner as a renter and 84% of them do not come from disadvantaged areas.
The analysis was undertaken by Brian Moss, a former Gsoc employee, who is currently with the Garda Inspectorate. He will shortly begin lecturing in a university in the UK.
Mr Moss looked at 1,915 complaints about gardaí, lodged with Gsoc between July 2009 and June 2012, analysing the types of complaints, who made them, and and where those complainants lived.
Most complaints do not arise in the most deprived areas, with Mr Moss crosschecking the complaints against Rapid (Revitalising Areas through Planning, Investment, and Development) area GIS boundaries produced by Ordnance Survey Ireland and by Pobal.
However, people living in Rapid areas submitted allegations that Gsoc determined to be of a more serious nature.
While there was no difference in complaint outcomes for people in Rapid areas and those living in other areas, four in five complaints closed for non co-operation came from Rapid areas.
Half of Rapid area complaints were terminated ahead of a full investigation.
There was “no general targeting of the usual suspects in usual spaces” and allegations of a more serious type were more clustered in Rapid areas.
The author suggests that more complaints, and complaints of a more serious nature, from Rapid areas might be hidden.
The study, submitted to the School of Sociology at University College Dublin, also suggests that people from the Travelling community were less likely to have their complaint substantiated than people of a non-white ethnicity.
There were issues regarding the outcomes of reported cases.
According to the study: “Garda-finalised complaints were 25% more likely to result in a substantiated complaint than Gsoc/DPP finalised complaints.
“Yet most complaints were finalised with a less serious sanction against a garda, the quality, duration, and impact of which are not specified in legislation or clarified by Gsoc. These sanctions may be less than expected or not in proportion with the misbehaviour shown.”
Mr Moss said his research had implications, including that the public might have “lost faith in the complaints system”.
“Factors within Gsoc around complaint-processing — unpublished and informal policies, staff attitudes and biases, and investigation techniques — may play a large role and require further investigation,” he said.
Citing a steady fall in Gsoc complaint numbers, Mr Moss said: “Gsoc needs to pay attention to assisting more marginal/less resource sufficient complainants through the complaints process. Areas of deprivation may already have lost confidence/faith in the complaints system and this is arguably being seen in the population generally.”