Concern at civilianisation of Garda crime scene examiner role

About 150 Garda examiners to be replaced by civilians this year

There is widespread concern among rank-and-file gardaí about plans to replace Garda crime scene examiners with civilian personnel.

About 150 gardaí are trained as scenes-of-crime examiners. Their duties include taking fingerprints and other evidence from scenes and photographing the area.

Under management plans to civilianise 1,500 Garda jobs by 2021, all scenes-of-crime examiner roles are to be transferred to civilian members. This will allow the current scenes-of-crime examiners to be transferred to front-line duties.

“All roles currently carried out by Garda members which do not require police powers are being examined for possible redeployment,” a spokesman said. “A census of staff has recently been completed which will assist in identifying posts to be civilianised.”

The details of the plan are contained in a letter, seen by The Irish Times, which was sent to affected members on March 9th. It outlined plans to transfer 500 gardaí to frontline roles in 2019 and replace them with civilians. A Garda spokesman later put this figure at 425.

Other roles to be civilianised in 2019 include immigration control, certain roles in the Divisional Protective Services Units, CCTV review, telephone analysis, and warrants and summons work.

A large number of civilians will also be assigned to computer-aided dispatch work.

Much of Garda court work will also be civilianised, including the roles of court presenters and court administration personnel.

Civilian staff are to be appointed to these roles as early as this month, the letter from the Garda’s chief administrative officer Joseph Nugent states.

“We have no problem with civilianisation, but we have serious concerns with moving gardaí from the crime-scenes examiner role where they would collect evidence and do forensic work,” a member of the Garda Representative Association’s (GRA) Central Executive Committee told The Irish Times.

Scenes-of-crime examiners undergo extensive training with the Crime Investigation Training unit in Garda Headquarters, covering topics such as fingerprints, photography, forensics, mapping and ballistics.

They also receive regular ongoing training in the latest techniques and undergo an arson investigation course with Dublin Fire Brigade. Garda scenes-of-crime examiners are regularly required to give evidence at trial.

Operational roles

The civilianisation of the role is expected to be discussed at the upcoming GRA conference next month. There is likely to be strong opposition from many of the association’s 11,000 members, sources said.

“These are frontline jobs which require extensive training,” the GRA committee member said. “It’s a complete waste of that training and unfair to the gardaí who have made the commitment to the role”.

Defending the move, a senior garda pointed out that the role of scenes-of-crime examiner has been civilianised in most UK police forces for decades.

Many scenes-of-crime examiners move on from the role after a few years when they apply for promotion or transfers, he said. The civilianisation of the role will allow civilian examiners to build up their experience over a much longer period.

It would also allow the force to hire people who had already acquired useful knowledge in the private sector.

Asked about the issue, a Garda spokeswoman declined to confirm the scenes-of-crime role will be civilianised but said the impact of civilisation has been “a key consideration for Garda management”.

“However, this process has been ongoing for a number of years and to further improve the service we provide and enhance community safety the 500 target must be met.”

The civilianisation programme is a continuation of a process which began last year when 350 gardaí were redeployed.

The spokeswoman added that many gardaí had previously moved into administrative roles during the civil service recruitment embargo introduced during the recession.

“Commissioner [Drew] Harris has said An Garda Síochána’s main function is keeping people safe. He is strongly of the view that one of the best ways to do it is to have the vast majority of gardaí working in operational roles.”

Mr Harris has taken steps to better integrate civilians into the force. Shortly after his appointment last September he sent an internal memo stating that civilians should be called gardaí like their sworn colleagues in recognition of their service to the force.