Cancellation of 999 calls a matter for concern, says Humphreys

Public can still ‘have confidence’ in response system, says Minister for Justice

 Minister for Justice Heather Humphreys: ‘I share the concern of the Policing Authority and the [Garda] Commissioner about the continuation of inappropriate cancellation of these calls.’ Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Minister for Justice Heather Humphreys: ‘I share the concern of the Policing Authority and the [Garda] Commissioner about the continuation of inappropriate cancellation of these calls.’ Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

 

The cancellation by Garda personnel of 999 calls made by the public was a matter for concern but people can still have confidence they will receive a Garda response when they ring the emergency number, Minister for Justice Heather Humphreys has said.

“I share the concern of the Policing Authority and the [Garda] Commissioner about the continuation of inappropriate cancellation of these calls,” Ms Humphreys said. However, it was also “important for people to realise” when they called 999 “they will get an appropriate response” and the public could “have confidence” in that system.

The comments by Ms Humphreys come after the Policing Authority issued a public statement expressing its concern at what it said was the continued cancellation by Garda members of 999 calls made by members of the public. This was despite months of controversy over the practice and new systems being introduced to stop the prevent calls being cancelled.

Garda Commissioner Drew Harris also said he was “disappointed” that a new batch of apparently mishandled 999 calls had been unearthed of late. However, he insisted more investigation was required before any Garda personnel could be disciplined. Multiple checks were required to establish if a decision to cancel or reclassify a call as a less serious issue was justified in each case.

The Policing Authority said some calls that had been received in recent months had been misclassified, meaning “very high risk” reports of crimes or request for an emergency policing response were recorded as less serious incidents by the Garda personnel who received or processed the calls.

The Policing Authority issued a statement on Thursday outlining its concerns and revealing that new cancelled or misclassified calls had been discovered by the Garda and reported to it this week.

Speaking at Garda Headquarters, Phoenix Park, Dublin, on Friday, Mr Harris refused to be drawn on whether he thought the Policing Authority was wrong to make public remarks this week, before a full investigation was completed.

Asked by the media if he was surprised at the sense of alarm expressed by the authority, Mr Harris said the suspect calls discovered and declared to the authority still had to be “fully bottomed out and examined” and it was “far too early to make a conclusion” about wrongdoing in the way any specific call was handled.

‘Intelligence’ facility

Last year it emerged some Garda personnel in charge of receiving 999 calls and dispatching frontline gardaí to emergencies had been marking as “cancelled” thousands of 999 calls each month. In some cases, no policing response was provided to people who rang 999 and the crimes they were reporting were never recorded.

In other cases a policing response was provided but the calls were still marked as “cancelled”, meaning they were not recorded in crime data and no follow-up checks on victims were carried out.

Between the start of 2019 and last October, some 1.4 million calls were made to 999, of which 163,778 were “priority 1” calls. Of those priority 1 calls, some 22,595 were cancelled, or 14 per cent. Among those were just over 3,000 domestic violence calls.

The fresh aspect of the controversy relates to a new feature the Garda authorities added to the 999 system at the end of last year in a bid to prevent 999 calls from the public being cancelled and also to better capture and process calls that were received.

Garda sources told The Irish Times a new “intelligence” facility was created on the 999 call processing system so that calls made by members of the public for the purposes of passing on information could be bettered catered for. While it was felt the facility would not be used very often by Garda personnel receiving and processing calls from the public, records showed that some 19,000 calls were filed as “intelligence” calls since last November.

Senior personnel in Garda Headquarters believed that figure was quite high and so a mini audit of some of the calls was undertaken. In a small number of cases, calls about high risk incidents appear to have been recorded as intelligence rather than being treated as emergencies to be addressed immediately.

However, Garda sources said the small number of apparently problematic calls identified to date may be duplicate calls about the same incident and that further checks were required.