Culture of ‘insular and stagnant’ Garda desperately needs change

Some of the findings in report are, quite simply, jaw dropping

 Garda Commissioner Noirin O’Sullivan was appointed in the aftermath of the controversies that saw her predecessor Martin Callinan leave the force. Photograph: Alan Betson

Garda Commissioner Noirin O’Sullivan was appointed in the aftermath of the controversies that saw her predecessor Martin Callinan leave the force. Photograph: Alan Betson

 

The latest review of the effectiveness of and structure of the Garda force will make difficult reading for senior management.

But for gardaí under pressure on the front line, the many damning indictments of an insular, stagnant and chronically under-resourced force outlined in the Garda Inspectorate’s Changing Policing in Ireland report simply could not come soon enough.

Some of the findings of this report are, quite simply, jaw dropping; even allowing for the neglect in investment inevitably arising from the economic collapse witnessed in 2008.

In cultural terms, many of the Garda’s own members and civilian staff who were interviewed for the report spoke of a risk-averse organisation that was “insular” and “defensive” and in which people were constantly afraid of the repercussions of making mistakes.

As a result, some staff were focused on “self-preservation” and to that end deliberately limited the contact they had with members of the public on the basis that “the less interaction, the less confrontation, the better”. And there was also a perception of “slowness”, the inspectorate found.

“Strong, visible leadership is required to develop, inspire and deliver a clear measurable programme of cultural reform,” it noted. Despite promises the Garda would listen to and even embrace criticism more – made by Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan in the aftermath of the controversies that saw her predecessor Martin Callinan leave the force and former minister for justice Alan Shatter retire – progress has been slow.

Underestimating crime

Garda Síochána

Thirteen months ago when the inspectorate published its report on how the Garda investigated crime, an under-resourced force that did not put victims at the centre of its service was revealed. The force was at best underestimating crime and at worst blatantly and significantly massaging the recorded crime figures.

But in this latest and as yet unpublished report, what is laid bare is something even more worrying – a culture in need of reform but with little ability to do so. Or perhaps one that is lost and does not know how to change.

A picture has emerged of a cosseted and comfortable management class – albeit one in chaos and making lots of promises without delivering.

But those in the field, especially outside Dublin, are now under extreme pressure. In its findings, the inspectorate is supporting what has been said for years by the Garda Representative Association and the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors.

Rosters introduced two years ago simply do not work. Worse, they are damaging policing, especially the investigation of crime. The four-day break that divides blocks of working days was frustrating not only for gardaí trying to investigate often serious and violent crime, but victims too.

Fragmented

The execution of promises to accelerate the recruitment of civilian staff into roles currently unnecessarily performed by sworn Garda members would free up 1,000 gardaí for frontline duties; a massive number in a force now with less than 13,000 members.

Previous recommendations by the inspectorate on governance, supervision, performance management and other issues had been accepted by the Garda at the time but have not been acted upon.

The call by the Garda Inspectorate for a “significant reduction in senior managers” will be welcomed by those members combating criminals and dealing with public order around the country.

In Garda headquarters, for example, there is one sergeant for every two rank-and-file gardaí. But in some parts of the country where members of the force are working on the front line – doing actual police work rather than remaining behind desks – there is one sergeant for every 28 gardaí.

In total, the report’s authors found 250 sworn Garda members were performing duplicated administrative functions at district, divisional and regional level simply because the force was split into too many sections. Real police work and communities nationwide are suffering as a result.

“The inspectorate found significant reductions in the numbers of Garda members assigned to community policing and some divisions have no dedicated community policing units,” it said.

The Garda, now more than ever, is facing a growing threat from cybercrime, international organised crime and fraud and other white-collar offences.

However, the inspectorate said: “There is no cybercrime unit. The Garda Bureau of Fraud Investigation are struggling to manage the volume of suspicious financial transaction reports forwarded to them as part of the money laundering and terrorist financing legislation.”

It also found personnel in “divisions are investigating serious fraud without always having the necessary skills and resources to conduct a thorough investigation”.

Serious concern

The report calls for the creation of a new cybercrime unit and a serious and organised crime unit. It also recommends that serious fraud investigations and the examination of suspicious financial transaction reports should be assigned to the two new units and away from the chronically under-resourced fraud squad; the same unit that has investigated the major white-collar cases linked to the economic collapse.

One-third of members do not have a Garda email account and while accounts can be provided to any member who asks, few officers who spoke to the inspectorate’s researchers were aware of this.

There are also still stations with no access to the Garda’s computerised database Pulse.

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