Garda Inspectorate report: A glimpse into a culture of chaos

An Garda Síochána is riddled with systemic, operational deficiencies, the Garda Inspectorate has found. Caroline O’Doherty reports

CRIME numbers are routinely understated and detection rates exaggerated, the Garda Inspectorate has found.

In a sample of 2,195 crimes recorded on PULSE, the Garda computerised incident recording system, 946 or 43% were recorded as solved when only 575 or 26% were actually solved — inflating the success rate by two-thirds.

In another sample of 158 calls received from the public, 44 were not recorded on PULSE and some 999 emergency calls made by the public are not recorded at all.

The incomplete and inaccurate recording of crimes is a major problem identified in the report. Some 10% of incidents are not recorded on PULSE until at least a week after they happened, and some not for a year. Crimes are often incorrectly classified, with one review of 500 PULSE crimes finding 30% were incorrectly classified, while there was insufficient detail in a further 16% to determine if the classification was correct.

In many cases, the Inspectorate found PULSE narratives suggesting more serious offences than were recorded and significant numbers of crimes were incorrectly classified in a non-crime category, under “attention and complaints” or “property lost”.

Such incidents are not forwarded to the Central Statistics Office and so are not included in the formal crime figures made public periodically by the CSO.

The unexplained reclassification of incidents is also a cause for concern with a review of one sample of 393 reclassified incidents finding 71% were incorrectly reclassified with “no recorded rationale to explain the reclassification”.

PULSE entries were rarely supervised and when they were queried by staff at the Garda Information Service Centre (GISC), those queries and requests for further information were often ignored. There were 420,000 queries issued to gardaí by GISC staff outstanding. A significant under-recording of burglary and attempted burglary was noted and only 38% of assaults were correctly classified. Other serious failings include:

Crime Investigation

There is massive under-use of fingerprinting. In 2012, of the 26,149 people who should have had their fingerprints taken, only 8,147 were fingerprinted so 69% were not. The figure for 2013 was 66%.

There is no formal process for assessing the seriousness of crime or the resources needed to investigate it, meaning the first garda to answer the call is likely to be the investigator, resulting in inexperienced gardaí investigating serious crimes — including rapes, threats to life, aggravated burglary and child sexual abuse — that require specialist officers.

Some investigating gardaí deliberately do not record a known suspect’s details on PULSE. “This information is not recorded in case another member arrests that persona and takes credit for that detection.”

It can take years for some forensic and technical results to be obtained.

Suspects’ details are often known and recorded but there are unexplained failures to make any attempt to arrest them.

Training

The Inspectorate found 700 untrained detectives, some of whom had held the rank of detective for ten years without receiving any training.

The majority of the 5,000 gardaí who joined the force since 2005 have not had training in interview techniques. Crime scene examiners get only five weeks training.

Many gardaí did not appear to know of changes to the detention of suspects laws introduced in 2011 which would allow them make better use of the initial six-hour detention period by letting them suspend it and resume it to enable them carry out further investigations.

The Inspectorate said there was “no practical training and guidance to ensure that the Garda Síochána produced a garda prepared for the demands of a modern police service”.

Management

It was found that senior gardaí spend too much time on bureaucracy with sergeants, inspectors and superintendents often not visible and detective superintendents having little involvement in crime investigation.

Daily briefings and debriefings do not take place.

After a crime is reported, there is no evidence of incident grading, risk assessment, times of unit dispatch or times of arrival in most divisions.

Where units do not respond to requests to attend calls, this practice “can often go unchallenged by supervisors” .

Technology to track and pinpoint locations of Garda members on patrol based on position of Garda radios and patrol cars is only in use in Dublin.

There is lack of supervision and direction of reserve members and there is a “a perception that under-performance is not being adequately addressed”.

Some traffic units don’t investigate traffic collisions while some drug units are being used on burglary cases. There were instances of cases being assigned to gardaí who had retired or who were on extended leave.

Exhibits and evidence were stored “in all sorts of places” including Garda lockers.

Domestic Violence

The Inspectorate found: “Some members displayed negative attitudes towards domestic violence by referring to calls as problematic, time-consuming and a waste of resources.”

Many cases are wrongly recorded as “attention and complaint” incidents rather than as crimes.

Follow-up visits to victims as required by Garda policy do not always happen. Gardaí often treated victims differently depending on whether they already had a court protection order in place or not.

Victims

There is “an inconsistent approach to updating victims and no national Garda standard as to how or when this contact should take place”.

There was only 89% compliance with the requirement that victims receive a letter stating who the investigating garda is in their case, and how to contact victim support, and only 74% compliance with the requirement that victims get a second letter informing them of progress when a suspect is identified.

The report said; “Many victims are not being kept up-to-date with developments in their case and find it extremely difficult to contact their investigating officer.”

It also said: “Victims of crime who have consumed alcohol may be sent away with the onus on the victim to contact the gardaí later if they want to report a crime.”

Comments

The Inspectorate said it had found a police service “in critical need of modernisation of its crime investigation operational and support infrastructure”.

“The absence of up-to-date technology and dated, inefficient investigative processes and policies, combined with poor internal audit controls, inconsistent case management and poor supervisory practices have led to the systemic operational deficiencies identified in this and other recent government initiated reports.

“As a result, potentially hundreds of thousands of Garda staff hours and resources... are currently allocated to those inefficient processes.”

It added: “The Inspectorate was also impressed by the hundreds of hard-working and dedicated rank-and-file officers... doing their best to get the job done, notwithstanding these inefficient processes, dated technology and poor management practices.”

 

Recommendations: An overview

More than 200 recommendations are made in the report, chief among them the need for new technology to replace the outdated, cumbersome, unreliable and easily manipulated systems currently in place.

Top of the list is a completely new national computerised crime investigation and records’ management system to replace Pulse, although the Inspectorate acknowledges this is a long-term goal and say in the meantime, steps must be taken to improve the use of Pulse.

Another investment called for is the procurement of a national Computer Aided Dispatch system which accurately record calls for service and deploys units and staff in the most effective and efficient way.

A technology-based custody system is also needed to replace paper-based custody books and more accurately record who is in custody, for what and for how long.

In addition to the new technology, the report also calls for systems governing its use, saying clear instructions must be drawn up on how crime is classified and how data is recorded and that a Force Crime Registrar should be appointed with responsibility for overseeing the records.

The report also calls for changes in the way the force is organised, saying major incident investigation teams must be developed to investigate serious crimes.

It says the system of using the National Bureau of Criminal Investigation to provide assistance to locally-based units investigating serious crime is insufficient, and it says the policy of believing all front-line gardaí are capable of investigating all crime regardless of experience or expertise must change.

It also says detective units should be brought together to work at divisional level rather than in separate districts and it says all detectives should be used exclusively in detective work. A review of the policies and procedures around fingerprinting is called for, in light of the massive under-use of fingerprinting, and the greater use of photofit identification as an investigative tool is urged. Greater use of the media in helping to find wanted persons is also urged along with the reduction of unnecessary paperwork.

A ‘victim-centred’ policy should be adopted in rape cases and other sexual offences, with only trained, dedicated officers involved in the investigation. In relation to domestic violence, gardaí should receive proper training in how to deal with victims and to ensure that all incidents are recorded on Pulse irrespective of the willingness of a victim to make a statement.

Greater investment in patrol vehicles, sat-nav, etc is urged, as is more thorough training for new recruits and serving gardaí.

Training needs to focus on interviewing techniques, gathering CCTV and other basic investigative skills.

Crime prevention also needs attention and a national crime prevention strategy should be developed.

It is also recommended that major development planning applications are reviewed by crime prevention officers trained in environmental design, and that a single national non-emergency telephone number is provided for people who don’t know their local Garda station number but don’t need to call 999.

Chief Inspector Robert Olson said: “Many of our recommendations depend on the acquisition of modern technology. Technology can not, however, [replace] strong management practices, strong supervision and strong governance in the investigation of crime.”

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