Watchdog says Garda backlog in examining electronic devices has ‘real implications’ for investigations

Policing Authority calls for major investment in IT to keep pace with organised criminals

An Garda Síochána needs €200 million in extra IT funding to keep pace with technology used by organised criminals, the Policing Authority has warned.

There is currently a three-year backlog in examining electronic devices seized in investigations and this is having a concerning impact on the potential identification of victims and the timeliness of investigations, it said. The Garda is also facing significant difficulties in hiring IT experts in the current market – 60 per cent of its IT personnel are external contractors.

The backlog in examining devices has grown rather than diminished in recent years, Policing Authority chairman Bob Collins told The Irish Times, and this has “real implications” for victims and suspects. He said there is an urgent need for more funding.

“We know it’s a difficult time to be talking about investment in circumstances where the economic outlook is not the most certain. But nonetheless it is absolutely essential to achieving the Garda Síochána mission of keeping people safe and particularly ensuring victims of sexual offences are encouraged to make complaints and to stay with the complaints until conclusion.”

READ MORE

The concerns were outlined in the Policing Authority’s biannual review of the Garda’s performance.

The authority praised the Garda in several areas, including its response to organised crime and action taken against the Kinahan organised crime group. It pointed to the “extraordinary” statistic that there has not been a single “threat to life” incident, a term which typically refers to planned gangland killings, recorded in the first six months of this year. There has been a marked drop in organised crime-related murders this year, although other categories of homicide have remained steady.

The challenge for the Garda is aligning this successes with the impacts on a local level, the authority said.

It said the goal of bringing Garda numbers to 21,000, comprising 15,000 gardaí, 4,000 civilian members and 2,000 reserves, may need to be revised upwards. In particular, the ceiling of 4,000 extra civilian staff is now considered insufficient by the Garda, particularly when it comes to IT staff.

The authority added the backlog in examining seized devices was an “enduring concern” and a “critical weakness” for the Garda.

It said it has already informed Minister for Justice Helen McEntee of the Garda’s need for an extra €200 million in capital investment “to enable it to catch up with the digital capabilities available to other police services and to organised crime groups”.

On an annual basis this would mean a dedicated IT budget of €40-45 million to modernise IT systems. Just 6 per cent of the current policing budget is dedicated to IT, compared to an average of 13-15 per cent in the UK. Of the Garda IT budget, only 12 per cent is allocated to change and growth projects compared to an average of 28 per cent in the UK.

Without additional investment the pace of modernisation will be much slower, the authority said.

The Garda’s “IT roadmap” is currently off-target in all areas and its goals will not be achieved by year-end. It is one of 19 yearly targets set for the Garda which is in danger of not being achieved.

The influx of refugees from Ukraine has put an unplanned strain on Garda resources and the Garda national diversity and integration unit has come under pressure, it said.

Other areas which are under strain include the finance directorate and the strategic transformation office, which are each working at 50 per cent capacity, and the health and wellbeing strategy, which only has one person working part-time on it.

The Policing Authority raised particular concerns about the resourcing of the Garda analysis section, which has 30 vacancies out of a staff of 74. None of the more than 70 individual agencies of the Garda have adequate analysis coverage, the Garda has estimated, “despite an established trend of increasing demand for analytical services and support”.

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher is Crime Correspondent of The Irish Times