Drew Harris faces treacherous path to drive policing reforms

One thing is for sure, Drew Harris will have a bit of light reading over Christmas. There won’t be much festive cheer in any of it either, writes Cormac O'Keeffe.

Drew Harris faces treacherous path to drive policing reforms

One thing is for sure, Drew Harris will have a bit of light reading over Christmas. There won’t be much festive cheer in any of it either, writes Cormac O'Keeffe.

The latest addition to his creaking reading pile is, actually, slight, coming in at 35 pages.

But it isn’t an easy read. It is crammed with management speak, with talk of “workstreams”, “enablers”, “building blocks” and “launching phases”.

There are also implementation charts and time frames and stakeholders.

On its own, the document, entitled “A Policing Service for the Future”, would be just about digestible.

But underpinning this plan is a small forest of paper the commissioner has most likely yet to read through in full.

His Christmas reading list includes:

  • Disclosures Tribunal report (published last October), running at over 400 pages;
  • Future of Policing in Ireland report (September), at 100 pages, which the newest plan is tasked with implementing;
  • Garda Cultural Audit (May 2018), at over 90 pages:
  • The Garda Inspectorate’s Responding to Child Sexual Abuse report (February), running at over 250 pages;
  • Crowe Horwath report on the breath test scandal (October 2017), at 90 pages;
  • The Garda’s own reform blueprint, the Modernisation and Renewal Programme (June 2016), running at 116 pages — and the various implementation status reports it supplies to the Authority;
  • The Inspectorate’s Changing Policing in Ireland report (November 2015), coming in at 440 pages;
  • The Inspectorate’s Crime Investigation report (October 2014), at a whopping 490 pages.

That’s not to mention the CSO’s various documents, the Garda’s own internal reviews of homicide investigations and a yet-to-fully-emerge scandal over the Juvenile Diversion Programme and the review of the North Frederick Street repossession incident.

Then there’s the six Policing Authority reports to the minister since January 2017. And so on.

All of which maps out the treacherous terrain he must walk to drive through the reforms now expected of him. The buck ultimately will stop with him.

Both the Policing Commission itself and the Government’s plan envisage a four-year timeframe for full implementation — less than a year short of the commissioner’s contract.

The fundamental thrust of the Commission’s report — that An Garda Síochána, assisted by other agencies, must be in their local communities and responding to their needs, with an even broader brief of “preventing harm” as well as crime.

From day one of his appointment, a couple of weeks before the Commission’s report was published, Commissioner Harris also identified ‘protecting the community’ as his top priority.

A key part of the implementation plan, the commissioner’s Local Policing Model will be launched in late 2019, which he would hope would start addressing some of that objective.

Speaking at the launch of the implementation plan yesterday, he did recognise significant obstacles, or as he phrased it ‘issues’, with implementing two key parts of the commission’s report: the establishment of multi-agency crisis intervention teams and the transfer of non-core duties (the biggest being the prosecution of cases in the courts) to other bodies.

The Commissioner said gardaí were “increasingly” dealing with vulnerable people on the street — and that other agencies were better skilled to deal with them, but were often not available to gardaí outside office hours.

He wants to see this multi-agency system in place “certainly within the lifetime” of the plan. But he will be mindful that this proposal was first recommended in 2009 by a joint Mental Health Commission and Garda report. But it never came to pass.

He accepted there were “quite considerable issues” with handing over the prosecution of cases in the courts to another agency.

These are just two of a whole range of complex, and potentially contested issues (particularly with trade unions and staff associations), that will place considerable strain on him in the coming year, and beyond.

As the Commissioner hacks his way through the reports and pulls out implementation charts of actions already taken and where the Garda’s own Modernisation and Renewal Programme fits into the whole thing, it won’t be the turkey that will be giving him stomach pain.

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