Gardaí criticised by Policing Authority over cancellation of 999 calls

Some 3,000 domestic violence calls cancelled with no Garda response for some callers

 Policing Authority chairperson Bob Collins made known his ‘deep dissatisfaction and significant concern’   File photograph: Paul Sharp/Sharpix

Policing Authority chairperson Bob Collins made known his ‘deep dissatisfaction and significant concern’ File photograph: Paul Sharp/Sharpix

 

The Policing Authority has strongly criticised An Garda Síochána for an “unacceptable” delay of six months in informing it of a growing controversy inside the force over the inappropriate cancellation of 999 calls from people looking for emergency help during domestic violence incidents.

Garda Commissioner Drew Harris was on Thursday evening due to the address the latest public meeting of the Policing Authority when failings relating to the cancelled calls, and the results of an internal Garda investigation into the saga, were due to be put to him.

Over 3,000 domestic violence 999 calls were classified as “cancelled” between 2019 and last October. While many victims whose calls were marked as “cancelled” received a policing response on the day, their calls were not recorded as domestic violence crimes or incidents. Other callers received no policing response after ringing 999.

According to the minutes of the authority’s private meeting with Mr Harris and his senior team late last month, it has emerged the Garda knew of the problem last autumn but did not inform the authority until April.

In remarks to Mr Harris and his senior team of officers at last month’s private meeting, Policing Authority chairperson Bob Collins made known his “deep dissatisfaction and significant concern” over the type and quality of information provided from the Garda to the authority on the matter. He added when clarifications were sought by the authority there had been an “unsatisfactory level of engagement” with some questions not addressed.

Mr Collins emphasised that, given the vulnerability of some of the at-risk people calling 999 seeking emergency help from gardaí, it was very important to understand what had happened and to ensure the problems were not continuing.

Mr Collins expressed “his own and the authority’s acute disappointment and intense frustration that information in the possession of and immediately available to the Garda Síochána had not been and was not being provided to the authority”.

Mr Collins also “stressed the need for a significant improvement in the provision of information and in the nature of engagement by the Garda Síochána” with the authority. It was agreed four regional assistant commissioners would come before the authority to explain what had happened when 999 calls were cancelled at the call centres in their regions.

Internal Garda investigation

The Irish Times also understands, while over 3,000 domestic violence calls were classified as cancelled in 2019 and 2020, this did not mean there was no policing response to all of them.

In some cases when domestic violence victims called 999 they received no response and their calls were cancelled without reason. In other cases, Garda personnel were dispatched to, and arrived at, the home of the caller seeking emergency help. But when a record of the incident was later made on the Garda’s system, that recording process was botched and the call was classified as “cancelled”.

The definitive number of calls that were responded to, but which were wrongly classified as “cancelled”, was not yet available as the internal investigation was ongoing, Garda sources said.

However, when large batches of calls marked as “cancelled” were closely examined, it was found more than half of them had been responded to but were wrongly marked as cancelled.

The internal Garda investigation into the matter has also found that in some cases, when gardaí called to domestic violence victims’ homes, they failed to follow procedures for dealing with such cases. They did not make further checks, either phone calls or visits, to the victim in the days that followed.

Garda sources said any member of the force who did not follow procedures could be disciplined. And any personnel, civilians or sworn members of the force, found to have cancelled calls without a good reason could also face disciplinary action.