Gardaí concerned at shortage of specialist investigators

Prosecution of motorists involved in serious road traffic crashes at risk, conference told

Conference was told that collisions in which people were seriously injured but than killed had increased significantly. File photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Conference was told that collisions in which people were seriously injured but than killed had increased significantly. File photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

 

Prosecution of motorists involved in road traffic crashes that result in death or serious injury may be at risk because the Garda does not have enough specialist investigators, trainers at the Garda College, Templemore, have said.

Sgt Ronan MacDonald, who is based in the college, said almost half of the forensic collision investigator (FCI) posts in the force are vacant. There are 34 such investigators, who examine the scenes of collisions to determine how serious crashes occurred and whether motorists should be prosecuted.

Sgt MacDonald told the annual conference of the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors (Agsi) the full complement of forensic collision investigators across the force should be 58. But 24 posts are vacant and four more are about to fall vacant due to retirements.

He and his colleagues are concerned such an acute shortage of vital expertise would affect the administration of justice in the courts.

“This may lead to serious shortcomings in the future provision of best evidence to support potential court cases and ensure justice for victims and their families,” he said.

Vacancies

The Garda College branch of Agsi believed the matter “needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency”. While road deaths had been falling in the Republic, reaching an all-time low last year, Sgt MacDonald said collisions in which people were seriously injured but than killed had increased significantly. And this underlined the need for specialist forensic-collision investigator vacancies to be filled immediately.

“The situation is now critical as data supplied by the Garda National Roads Policing Bureau shows an increase in the number of serious injury collisions, from 319 in 2013 to 550 in 2017,” he said. “All regions have had an increase in these collisions that forensic collision investigators must attend. Yet there are now less FCI gardaí to deal with these collisions.”

Meanwhile, Sgt Tim Gavin, said the lack of advanced driving training for officers is at a critical point and is undermining emergency police work in communities. Only one member of the unit he leads in Dún Laoghaire, south Dublin, had undergone and graduated from this training programme. He said that in the past chief superintendents granted permission to junior members to drive squad cars under all conditions, including in emergency or pursuit situations.

This permission was granted though the garda had undergone no specialist training. Sgt Gavin said at present gardaí were prepared for driving a patrol car by being taken out in a vehicle to observe somebody else’s advanced skills. They were then allowed to drive Garda cars, but not with the lights flashing and sirens on in an emergency situation.

“They can’t speed, they can’t break lights and they have to be within the regulations. They can’t drive in the bus lanes or anything like that,” said Sgt Galvin. “In my view, driver training should be done as part of the course they do in the Garda College before they even come near a station. It’s absolutely, utterly ridiculous. It affects the job that we do.”

Emergency

If Garda members who had not undergone advance training were asked to respond to an emergency incident, he added, they now had to decide whether to push the rules and drive in emergency mode despite the fact they were not permitted to do so.

“On the other hand, we have had colleagues killed who didn’t have the driver training going to an incident,” said Sgt Galvin. When Agsi had previously suggested to Garda HQ that all gardaí receive advance driving training while they were students in the Garda College, this argument had met with resistance.

Agsi says it was previously informed that providing the training in such a way would mean new recruits would effectively jump ahead of more senior officers in a waiting list to undergo the advance driver training.