Policing Authority raises 'intense frustration' with gardaí over 999 calls controversy

Policing Authority raises 'intense frustration' with gardaí over 999 calls controversy

Garda Commissioner Drew Harris, right, with chair of the Policing Authority Bob Collins pictured ahead of a previous Policing Authority meeting. File picture: Leah Farrell/RollingNews.ie

The Policing Authority has sharply criticised An Garda Síochána for its failure to provide “substantive information” regarding the ongoing controversy over cancelled 999 emergency calls.

At the authority’s monthly meeting with Garda Commissioner Drew Harris, its chair Bob Collins described his “intense frustration” with the authority’s inability to secure detailed information from the gardaí on the issue until April. 

That is despite the fact that a Garda review of the problem commenced last October and had appreciated at an early stage the significant extent to which domestic violence calls had been involved.

Mr Collins’s comments came as the meeting was told that of some 3,120 domestic violence calls which had been cancelled by gardaí between January 2019 and October 2020, some 2,028 had been closed for “presumed invalid” reasons. Some 1,400 of these were referred back to their Garda division for further investigation.

Calls cancelled on the 40-year-old Garda dispatch system in that manner are not automatically logged on the Garda Pulse computer system and thus cannot be followed up for further inquiry. The incidents are also excluded from official crime statistics.

Meeting 'deeply dissatisfying'

Introducing the meeting, Mr Collins said a private meeting with Commissioner Harris from late May had been “deeply dissatisfying” due to the lack of information the gardaí had been willing to make available to the authority at the time, compounded by the fact its members had already received a detailed operational briefing regarding the issue from the Dublin Metropolitan Region’s command centre.

“It is very clear that there wasn’t a technical problem which caused this,” Mr Collins said. 

There wasn’t a mechanical problem; it was the decisions of individuals which caused calls to be cancelled.” 

Mr Harris began his testimony with an apology to those people who had made 999 calls in domestic disturbance situations and who had not received “the professional service we aim to deliver and victims are entitled to expect”.

Calls 'harrowing'

The commissioner said he had listened to “a couple of dozen” of the cancelled calls, and conceded that some of them had been “harrowing” to listen to.

He acknowledged “there are certain outliers” in terms of officers who may have cancelled more calls than others, but added, “we don’t want to rush to judgement”.

Asked if the review established some calls had been cancelled following coordination within Garda WhatsApp groups to avoid paperwork, Mr Harris said, “It would be wrong to say our minds are closed to the possibility."

He also admitted “issues” have been noted in terms of the quality of information gathering on 999 calls, with some “addresses recorded incorrectly”, leading to attending gardaí being unable to find the property from which the call came.

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