Clear and ambitious vision of Ireland’s police training

New training programme has a number of interesting and original elements

Attending the Garda graduations in Templemore on Thursday were the Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald, meeting the graduates as Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan hands out their Garda id cards. Photograph Liam Burke/Press 22

Attending the Garda graduations in Templemore on Thursday were the Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald, meeting the graduates as Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan hands out their Garda id cards. Photograph Liam Burke/Press 22

 

The training of police in Ireland has a long, unparalleled history which dates back to 1786. Despite this long past, the training provided has not been immune from criticism.

Concerns have been raised by a variety of stakeholders relating to the adequacy of the training to equip gardaí to take up their roles as frontline police officers. The Guerin Report, for example, identified issues in respect of gathering evidence at a crime scene, monitoring arrangements for probationary gardaí and the difficulties posed by inexperienced officers investigating crime. The Inspectorate found similar issues, pointing out that a lot of course time was spent on non-operational policing activities.

In 2008 a Review Group was established by Garda Commissioner Fachtna Murphy to undertake a review of training and make recommendations for best practice in police education. Having engaged with a number of key stakeholders and examined international best practice, the review group produced a set of recommendations which centred, among other things, on addressing the strategy, philosophy, processes, technology and structure of education and design in Templemore.

It recommended a new programme which would produce professional, reflexive, officers equipped with the knowledge how best to serve Irish society and with the ability to engage in lifelong learning and further professional development.

As a result a new BA in Applied Policing was created, receiving its first intake of recruits in September 2014. The programme itself is an accelerated one, delivered over three phases. It has a number of interesting and original elements.

To begin with, the first phase of the programme is grounded in a pedagogy of problem-based learning, a philosophy of education which emerged in the teaching of medical students in the 1960s in Canada. Dismissive of the traditional didactic approach to teaching – which places the lecturer at the centre of the learning exercise and the student as passive recipient – problem-based pedagogy actively engages students in learning that will be meaningful post qualification.

It is a ‘learning by doing’ approach that seeks to promote deeper understanding by ensuring that students learn both thinking strategies and domain knowledge. It is also highly pragmatic in that it focuses on core skills and functions required by the qualification, and is supplemented by work based and competency based pedagogies in later phases of the programme.

Unlike previous lecture-based training in Templemore where the content knowledge did not always reflect practice, the current model is more focused on developing lifelong policing competencies and functions for the gardaí as a community of practice.

Secondly, the Garda Training College engaged with the Law School at the University of Limerick in accrediting the programme. This is novel for a criminal justice agency to engage in collaboration of this kind, though it is very much in keeping with national strategy for higher education which calls on universities to engage more widely with business, industry, training colleges and communities.

In essence, it has allowed a ‘community of scholars’ and a ‘community of practice’ to pool resources so as to scaffold the core competencies and core functions of policing (as identified by the gardaí) in an innovative curriculum design which is supported by strict academic regulations.

Thirdly the programme itself is very transparent. In accrediting the programme with the University of Limerick, the gardaí have opened the training programme up to continuous scrutiny from the governance structure of the university including accreditation visits, examination boards, quality assurance boards, external examiner reports, academic regulations, and reviews.

A governance structure of this kind demands constant and meaningful dialectical engagement between the university and the training college on issues such as fairness of procedures, academic integrity, and the extent to which learning outcomes for the programme are being achieved.

Finally, the new training embeds human rights and ethical policing as a core programme outcome. It ensures that ethics, human rights, values and community are considered in the management of all policing situations, and it seeks to provide a continuity of learning around these issues from problem based learning in the Garda College to work based learning in the Garda divisions.

The gardaí are given the responsibility by the State of protecting the rights of citizens and enforcing the law of the country. Their functions and competencies should be based on democratic values that seeks to ensure fair and impartial treatment for all of its citizens.

This new programme represents another layer in what has been a long history of police training in Ireland. It is supported by a very high standard of recruit; almost 24,000 candidates applied for the first 100 places.

The clear ambition and vision is that Ireland can be pioneering again in respect of its police training.

Professor Shane Kilcommins and Dr Eimear Spain lecture in the Law School at the University of Limerick