Members of the Policing Authority “keep hearing” of shortcomings in the Garda’s response to domestic violence and a reluctance or unwillingness on the part of some gardaí to get involved in cases unless the victim had already secured a barring or safety order against the perpetrator, a public meeting has been told.
This was despite a major shift in the force’s response to domestic violence during the pandemic when a specialist nationwide operation was put in place to monitor and reach out to people, mostly women, at risk in their own homes during lockdown periods.
Meanwhile, on the issue of crime rates in general, Garda Commissioner Drew Harris said at a public meeting of the Policing Authority on Thursday in Portlaoise, Co Laois, that the Republic was safe compared with many other jurisdictions. However, there was a “national fascination” with reading about crime in the media, which led to “a perception around the fear of crime”.
“I think some of that perception is driven by the amount of crime that features in the news. Perhaps that’s a feature you don’t see so prevalent in our close neighbours, or indeed across to our European neighbours.”
Mr Harris was responding to a question by authority member Dr Donal de Buitleir, who asked if the fear of crime, especially among older people when high profile crimes occurred, was justified or if the Republic was safer compared to other countries.
Mr Harris said the demands placed on the Garda’s policing services were growing and this would continue, especially as the population was projected to increase over the next decade. That meant the target to increase the force to 15,000 sworn members over the next year or two would not be “sufficient” to keep pace with demands. A business case would be formulated to request more resources.
Policing was also becoming more complex, and in the Republic in recent years a range of specialist units had been created including armed response and units combating frauds, other economic crimes and cybercrimes. A range of divisional protective services bureaus – which are specially trained to deal with sex crime victims and other vulnerable victims – had also been rolled out, all of which required personnel.
Authority chairman Bob Collins said feedback from domestic violence victims, and the groups that work to help them, suggested that when they dealt with some gardaí it was clear they had an “inadequate understanding” of the laws around domestic violence.
Another member of the authority, lawyer Shalom Binchy, said the authority “keeps hearing” in their consultations with communities that gardaí are unwilling to get involved in domestic violence cases unless the victim already has already secured a court order – including safety or barring orders – against the perpetrator. She said victims were being told gardaí could “do nothing for them” unless an order existed.
“We hear that people have made complaints, maybe have evidence available, and gardaí are not coming and collecting that evidence and are not following up,” she told Garda Commissioner Drew Harris and his senior management team.
“What people want when they contact An Garda Siochana, they want to know whatever crime they’ve reported is investigated and we hear, repeatedly in the area of domestic violence, there are very serious shortcomings.”
Deputy Commissioner Anne Marie McMahon told the authority she would like to hear the details of any cases where there had been a failure of gardaí to intervene and take action after alleged domestic violence had been brought to their attention.
Over the last two years “significant training” have been undertaken within the Garda to ensure members of the force were aware of the various types of orders that could be granted by the courts to safeguard domestic violence victims. As a result, she “would expect” gardaí to be able to advise victims about those orders and how to go about securing them.