GSOC is “concerned” that gardai are holding criminal investigations into serving officers without the ombudsman being told or involved.
It has said in its latest annual report that this is happening despite the government giving it more staff to investigate gardai. The number of staff grew from 92 at the end of 2018 to 125 at the end of 2019.
“The issue of the Garda Síochána conducting criminal investigations of its own members without GSOC’s knowledge or participation continued to be of concern to the Ombudsman Commission,” the report states.
“GSOC believes legislation which will replace the Garda Síochána Act, 2005 should make explicit provision for independent oversight of all complaints against garda members, regardless of the origin of the complaint. GSOC should investigate complaints without involving Garda Síochána.
“The increase in staff in 2019 allowed for more investigations to be undertaken by GSOC investigators.”
As a result of complaints received in 2019 there were 485 criminal investigations opened by the watchdog. It sent 23 files to the Director of Public Prosecutions following criminal investigations.
Arising from these, there were five directions for prosecution, 14 directions for no prosecutions and four decisions were pending at the end of the year.
Cases where directions for prosecution were given include one count of assault contrary to section 2 of the Non-Fatal Offences Against the Person Act 1997 against two members of the force.
They also include one count of careless driving contrary to section 52 of the Road Traffic Act 1961 as amended against a member of the gardaí.
A total of 96 sanctions were imposed by GSOC on individual gardaí following complaints to and investigations by GSOC.
Some 30 sanctions were for a reduction of up to two week’s pay, 17 were fines and five were a “reprimand”.
The 2019 Annual Report also said that 1,756 complaints were made against serving officers and civilian staff in the year, and there were a total of 2,885 allegations contained in those complaints.
There were 40 referrals from gardaí of matters where it appeared ‘the conduct of a member of the Garda Síochána may have resulted in the death of or serious harm to a person’.
There were also 44 public interest investigations opened without there being a specific complaint to GSOC or a referral from the Garda Commissioner.
One of them was launched over media reports that an inquiry had commenced internally in the force into allegations that a senior garda had sent inappropriate text messages to a female member of staff.
The watchdog received neither a complaint nor notification about the alleged behaviour.
GSOC noted: “It also appeared that while a disciplinary investigation had taken place, it was not clear whether a criminal investigation had taken place.
“The Commission concluded that an investigation should be commenced in the public interest as it appeared a criminal offence may have been committed. The investigation is ongoing.”
in another case the ombudsman received a referral from a superintendent after a person suffered a seizure while in custody. GSOC uncovered apparent discrepancies between the written custody record at the garda station in which the person had been detained the night before the seizure, and what was recorded on CCTV.
The discrepancies related to the number of times the person had been checked by gardaí during the night.