Almost 2,000 complaints received by Gsoc about the Garda in 2017
22 protected disclosures made to Gsoc last year, according to Ombudsman’s annual report
Allegations contained within complaints related to abuse of authority, neglect of duty, discourtesy and the improper use of information. File photograph: Mark Steadman/RollingNews.ie
There were 22 protected disclosures made by members of An Garda Síochána to the Garda Ombudsman (Gsoc) last year, according to its annual report.
Gsoc was examining a total of 25 disclosures at the end of 2017. It said no protected disclosures were received by Gsoc in relation to its own staff.
There were 1,949 complaints received by Gsoc in relation to An Garda Síochána in 2017, up 10 per cent on the previous year.
There were 4,459 allegations contained within those complaints which related to abuse of authority, neglect of duty, discourtesy and the improper use of information.
The report said 24 referrals from the Garda Síochána related to matters where it appears “the conduct of a member of the Garda Síochána may have resulted in the death of, or serious harm to, a person”.
Sixteen files were referred to the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), resulting in 10 directions for prosecutions, five directions for no prosecution and one decision pending.
The report said the lack of capacity to deal with additional complex investigations or to initiate investigations which Gsoc would like to carry out has been highlighted by the Ombudsman Commission.
It also said recruitment for the Protected Disclosure Unit began late last year but sanction was given for five posts rather than the 12 sought by Gsoc.
Recommendations made by Gsoc to the Garda Síochána included that gardaí identify themselves to the public, a duty to take care of prisoners when transporting them, the need to keep proper records and preserve evidence.
The report said one compliant arose when a member of the public was questioned about who he was and what he was doing in the place where he was encountered. The member of the public was in fact an employee who had stepped out for a cigarette.
The garda who questioned him was in plain clothes and did not identify himself as a garda when he began to question him.
“The member of the public reacted badly to being questioned by a complete stranger with, as he saw it, no justification,” it said.
A separate complaint arose when a man was arrested, handcuffed and brought to a Garda station in a Garda car. He complained that Garda used force against him during the journey. It was later established by Gsoc that the gardaí did not fasten a seat belt on the prisoner and this gave rise to the need to use force during the journey.
Gsoc said by not applying a seatbelt they may have placed the prisoner and themselves or colleagues at risk.
Separately, a member of the Garda Regional Support Unit accidentally discharged a firearm in responding to an incident. There were no injuries or damage caused but Gsoc recommended the Garda Commissioner review a multipurpose sling used by the unit and the suitability of tactical vests.
The greatest number of allegations in the country were recorded against gardaí in the Dublin Metropolitan Region (DMR), “as could be expected given the population and police activity in the capital” the report said.
The highest numbers came from DMR South Central and DMR West, as was the case in 2016 and 2015.
Outside the DMR, Limerick and Cork city were the divisions with the highest number of allegations made against gardaí in 2017. The number of allegations against gardaí in Galway, which had the highest number of allegations after DMR West and South Central in 2016, fell significantly last year.
The report said at the end of 2017, the median time taken to close criminal investigations was 115 days, an increase of 16 days on 2016 figures.
One of the most pressing concerns outlined is Gsoc’s ability to share information appropriately with other organisations.
The report said the Policing Authority seeks information from Gsoc about Garda candidates for promotion and, with the consent of the candidates, this information has been of benefit to all parties.
“Such information sharing is not possible in the instances of protected disclosures as it may lead to the identification of the person making the disclosure,” it said.
Gsoc said it has made proposed changes to the Protected Disclosures Act 2015 but is unaware of what, if any progress, has been made on these proposals.
The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which came into effect in May 2018, places “onerous obligations” on all data controllers, including Gsoc, in relation to the processing, retention and protection of data and in the area of transparency.
“Gsoc must examine why it has certain data, how long it is held any why it is held, and how transparency can be ensured for complainants and Garda members,” it said.
A Data Protection Officer with a specific role under the GDPR had yet to be formally designated by the end of 2017.
Garda who ‘smelt of alcohol’ breached discipline
A woman complained to the Garda Ombudsman last year about a uniformed garda she encountered in a pub and who “smelt of alcohol”.
The report said a woman complained to Gsoc about a uniformed garda who approached her and two female friends in a pub.
She said the garda made some remarks which she took to be a comment on her hair. She said the garda sat between herself and one of her friends, placed his Garda hat on her head and draped his arms around the shoulders of the two women while a friend took photographs.
The woman said she was uncomfortable with where the garda had placed his hand and that another person in the pub had commented he had seen the garda drinking alcohol earlier in the day.
Gsoc initiated an investigation and found a sergeant had seen the garda in question eating in the smoking area of the pub that evening and had told him to have his meal at the Garda station.
The report said the pair walked back to the station and the sergeant then noticed that “the garda smelt of alcohol”.
“It was agreed the garda would finish duty shortly afterwards and go home,” it said.
When interviewed during the investigation, the garda accepted he had breached discipline and acknowledged the embarrassment caused to the Garda Síochána and himself. He also offered an apology to the complainant and sanctions were applied.
A separate inquiry was launched into the circumstances of an incident in which a man was struck twice with a Garda ASP baton during a protest.
Gardaí had been called after a person reported being assaulted during a heated public protest. During the arrest of a protester the crowd surrounded a garda and pulled away the person the garda was arresting.
The arresting garda struck another protester twice with an ASP baton, once on the leg and immediately afterwards on the shoulder/neck area.
An investigation was launched and Gsoc found that the actions of the arresting garda “may have been excessive and may have amounted to an excessive use of force” contrary to Garda Disciplinary Regulations. A sanction was imposed by the Garda Síochána.