Between 450 and 500 complaints alleging Garda members have used excessive force are made each year, according to Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission (Gsoc) figures, but the number of these that end up in court is in the low single digits and such cases very often result in acquittals.
Allegations of excessive use of force or assault by on- and off-duty members account for about one-fifth of the complaints made to the Garda watchdog annually.
In a recent case before the courts, which concluded 2½ years after the excessive use-of-force complaint was made, the accused detective was acquitted. The judge said the detective should have been “commended” for the way he conducted himself rather than prosecuted.
The number of use-of-force investigations into gardaí, and how long they take, has come into focus since the Dublin riots on November 23rd. Many uniform gardaí were reluctant to use force on the day, even in the face of riotous violence.
The Garda Representative Association, which represents almost 11,000 rank and file gardaí in a 14,000-strong force, and the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors have said their members were now much less inclined to use force, even when it was proportionate. The associations claim gardaí fear complaints will be made about them if they use force. This often leads to lengthy investigations, at times involving their suspension, which was detrimental to their careers and mental health.
The vast majority of investigations into allegations of excessive use of force are carried out by Gsoc, with a small number handled in the Garda’s internal disciplinary system.
In reply to queries, Gsoc said it did not compile stand-alone data for use-of-force allegations because they were often contained in “multi-stranded” complaints featuring several types of allegations. However, it said the “non-fatal offences” it investigated would “broadly represent use of excessive force as well as assault outside the operational context”.
In the past five years, the average number of such allegations has been 470 – ranging from 398 in 2019 to 596 in 2021. The watchdog said it had “no role in prosecuting cases”. Furthermore, Gsoc said it had no role in suspending Garda members, nor did it sanction them, which was the role of Garda management or the courts.
Of the total number of complaints made to Gsoc every year, about half are admitted for investigation. Gsoc does not provide a full breakdown of the outcomes of all investigations. However, in its annual report it sets out the number of total investigations it carried out that concluded in the courts each year. Usually, use-of-force or assault cases are in the low single digits.
Garda headquarters said it did not have data for the number of use-of-force complaints it investigated internally as such allegations were “routinely” carried out by Gsoc.