Fantasy crime data makes mockery of strategic policing

With such unreliable figures, decisions about deployment are being made in a vacuum

How can senior Garda management determine where they should place their dwindling front-line resources? Photograph: Frank Miller

How can senior Garda management determine where they should place their dwindling front-line resources? Photograph: Frank Miller


Much is rightly made of the dangers unarmed gardaí face on the front line fighting crime.

When public disorder and other forms of violence break out, it’s the men and women in Garda uniforms society depends on to keep the public safe.

In recent years gardaí have been badly assaulted, stabbed and some shot. One member of the force was fatally wounded the year before last.

And with the illicit drugs market and the gun crime that goes with it set to become resurgent as the wider economy recovers, it is a certainty that the streets will become more dangerous in the period ahead.

The same situation pertains to excessive alcohol consumption and the level of violence it often leads to. As disposable incomes grow it will almost inevitably worsen.

The report issued yesterday by the Central Statistics Office about the quality of crime data originating with the Garda reveals a chaotic system of counting recorded crime. The official data is underestimating some types of crime by up to a staggering 38 per cent.

And when it comes to public disorder, and weapons offences including gun crime, about one in four of all crimes recorded by the Garda is leaking out of the force’s official data.

However, other categories of crime have been found to be completely accurate when the Central Statistics Office has tested them.

It prompts an obvious question. How can senior Garda management determine where they should place their dwindling front-line resources when the basic data that dictates planning and the need for new policing operations is so unreliable?

When the new crime figures were released yesterday for the 12-month period to the end of March, Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan expressed concern about an 8 per cent increase in burglary rates across the State.

She spoke of preparing a policing response that would focus more Garda patrolling in burglary hotspots. But the truth of the matter is that the commissioner and her senior colleagues have no idea where those hotspots are.

The CSO studied the burglary rate for 2011 and concluded that just over 5,000 burglaries recorded during that year had simply fallen out of the official figures by the time they were collated at the end of the year.

The official number of recorded burglaries was 27,695 in 2011, according to the Garda. But the CSO says about 32,800 burglaries were actually recorded that year by the Garda. So 18 per cent of burglaries simply went missing.

The counting of recorded crime is revealed to be such a shambles in some areas and so accurate in others that we can’t even conclude there has been a uniform underestimation by 18 per cent of burglaries in all policing divisions.

Many areas may have counted their burglary rates with total accuracy while others may have erred to a much greater degree than the average.

It means the decision making behind the Garda’s deployment of additional resources into burglary hotspots has as much chance of success as a blindfold game of pin the tail on the donkey.

The same problems have been found across the counting of all recorded crime, save for homicides and kidnappings.

It means all of the decisions made about the deployment of Garda resources – from the allocation of vehicles, personnel, surveillance teams and overtime budgets to armed patrols to catch drug dealers, burglars and would-be assassins – is based on crime trends now proven to be fantasy.

The public’s trust in the effectiveness of the Garda has been hammered again by this latest report.