Drew Harris is quietly spoken. That much has been made clear by people close to him.
But that does not mean he will be low-key in his actions, they say.
“Will he be an inspirational leader and rally the troops with speeches? No, I doubt it,” said one source. “But don’t mistake that for lack of authority. He is steely and if he wants something done, he wants it done.”
In his speech, after his swearing in, the new commissioner came across as a genuine and straight-talking person. He also laid down a number of markers.
The reason for the dead-of night-swearing-in, he said, was that he was “anxious just to get on with this right away” and wanted to reflect the reality that policing was a 24-hour service.
Referring to the presence of garda leadership and frontline members at the
ceremony, he said he wanted to underline the connection between leadership and “those patrolling at night at the coalface”.
He wanted to focus on tackling crime and protecting and serving the communities and particularly wanted to “protect the vulnerable”. He would also continue the reform process and create an accountable and open police service.
But can he do both, or will the reform monster devour his time and energy, away from tending to the coalface?
When he went to his office after the swearing in, he might have baulked at the reading list handed to him.
He might have glanced at the piles of documents and reports towering against the entire length of the wall, many of them the thickness of telephone books.
But where does he start?
Does he go back to the mother of all Garda inquiries, the Morris Tribunal, and its five weighty tomes?
Does he concentrate on Sergeant Maurine McCabe and dive into the various penalty point investigations and the Cavan/Monaghan Division cases, with the Guerin and O’Higgins reports? That could lead him to the Disclosure Tribunal, reporting next month.
Does he look at the strained Garda relationship with GSOC, and the Cooke (bugging) report, and decide whether or not to drop himself into the Ian Bailey case.
He probably doesn’t need to go over the Smithwick report for reasons touched on in the Irish Examiner last Saturday.
He might be tempted to read the Fennelly report into the retirement/forced retirement of former commissioner Martin Callinan by the Government.
He will probably examine the landmark Garda Inspectorate publications: the Crime Investigation report of 2014 and the Changing Policing in Ireland report 2015.
These have laid the foundations of the Garda reform programme — which in turn led to the Garda’s own five-year Modernisation and Renewal Programme (MRP).
The inspectorate also published its Child Sexual Abuse report last year.
Then there are the various reports last year into the breath test and FCN scandals, one internal and another external by Crowe Howarth on behalf of the Policing Authority.
He will need a handle on many of these issues when he starts attending the public meetings of the Policing Authority, which is tasked with monitoring the reform programme.
In the authority’s last report to the justice minister it effectively brought the Garda MRP to a temporary halt, saying it had “fundamental flaws”, and called for an urgent review.
But, just as he starts studying, the big one will land on his desk — the report of the Policing Commission. That report, due in around two weeks, is supposed to set out a model for the future of the organisation.
As someone who was in the RUC when the Patten Commission report was published and the PSNI was born, Mr Harris will have some idea of what to expect.
In October, he will have his first meeting with the Oireachtas Justice Committee, followed soon after by the Disclosure Tribunal Report.
Then will come the internal report into the Juvenile Diversion Programme, which is investigating how thousands of juvenile offenders appeared not to have been sanctioned.
But as he tries to grapple with many tentacles of reform, he has to keep the streets safe.
After the ceremony, Commissioner’s Harris’ tour of Dublin’s north inner city, which has borne the brunt of the murderous Kinahan cartel onslaught against the wider Hutch criminal group, and chats to members on the street, sent out the right signal and went down well with frontline garda associations.
His pointed reference to the importance of the connection of garda leadership and the frontline at his
inauguration would also have scored points with garda staff associations.
Last May’s Garda Cultural Audit, which conducted a survey of members, found there was a “disconnect”
between senior and junior ranks. That audit also found that lack of frontline supervision of rank and file gardaí was a “critical” gap and posed a “significant risk” for the organisation.
It also said there was a need to “fix the basics”, including the garda uniform, proper vehicles, modern technology and training.
Gardaí, and not just at the frontline, want the commissioner to beat the drum on resources to Government,” said one experienced garda representative.
The commissioner may also have to do things that may not go down well with all members, including a proper performance management system, redeployment of gardaí, effective disciplinary processes (an issue raised in the Disclosure Tribunal) and reduction of allowances.
At Garda HQ level, Commissioner Harris’ pointed comment that he was not bringing in his own team, as has been suggested elsewhere as a necessity to reform the organisation, would have gone down well.
Some senior officers said the commissioner will also need to have the bottle to stand up to what some of them see as “excessive demands” on the organisation, by the Government, the Policing Authority, the Garda Inspectorate and Oireachtas.
There needs to be a realisation at what can be done and the capacity of the organisation and he needs to be able to say that clearly,” said one senior HQ source.
Commissioner Harris joins at a time of rapid recruitment, of roughly 800 per year, which, after retirements, is supposed to bring garda numbers to 15,000 by 2021, along with a targeted 4,000 civilians and 2,000 Garda Reserves.
The recruitment has yet to make a significant difference on the ground, particularly in terms of regular units and serious problems remain (though processes are underway) in relation to having sufficient numbers of
sergeants to supervise and guide both new recruits and inexperienced gardaí.
Commissioner Harris repeatedly referred to communities and the most vulnerable in his two public comments (appointment and swearing in) so far.
Garda surveys still show the majority of people do not believe there are enough gardaí locally and three out of 10 said community relations with the police were “poor”.
Various figures show a rise in most crime categories, with garda data also showing that detection rates have fallen, in some cases significantly.
He has ongoing issues regarding the quality of crime statistics to sort out too.
He will have learned of garda successes against organised crime — preventing assassinations, seizing firearms, freezing assets and convicting key players.
But, as we report today, the gardaí are €31m in the red after just seven months, most of it down to overtime. That means “corrective action” in Garda HQ-speak under his watch. Either that or he demands — and gets – more money.
In his speech, he said he had taken the top job at a fortuitous time and that he had been “very lucky” in his policing career.
He may need that lucky streak to continue.