Gardaí delay reporting almost 1,600 pepper spray incidents

Figures show failure to notify Gsoc about using the spray within 48 hours

Specialist gardaí also regularly fail to notify Gsoc within the required time period when they use Taser guns.  Photograph: Eric Luke

Specialist gardaí also regularly fail to notify Gsoc within the required time period when they use Taser guns. Photograph: Eric Luke

 

The Garda failed to report almost 1,600 incidents involving incapacitating spray within the required time frame, data obtained by The Irish Times shows.

Between January 2016 and August 2018, the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission (Gsoc) received 1,794 reports of Garda use of incapacitating spray – often known as pepper spray – on suspects.

In 87 per cent of those cases (1,566) gardaí failed to notify Gsoc about using the spray within 48 hours, as mandated by internal Garda directives. Gardaí notified the Ombudsman within the required timeframe on just 222 occasions.

Some uses of pepper spray were only notified to Gsoc up to two years after they occurred. On June 4th, 2016 a Garda based in Clonmel used spray on a suspect. Gsoc was informed of the incident on March 13th, 2018 – 646 days later.

In December 10th, 2016 a Garda in Ennis deployed pepper spray; Gsoc received a notification 410 days later in January 24th, 2018.

Specialist gardaí also regularly fail to notify Gsoc within the required time period when they use Taser guns. Tasers, which are only issued to specialist Garda units, have been deployed 68 times since 2016. In 35 of those instances Gsoc were not notified in time.

The 48-hour notification requirement was introduced by Garda management in 2010 to ensure Gsoc received information about the use of Garda force as soon as possible and to allow its investigators gather any potential evidence about wrongful use of force while it is still fresh.

Injuries, particularly those caused by pepper spray, would in many cases have cleared up after 48 hours, making any potential investigation more difficult.

Witness testimony

Other helpful sources of information, such as CCTV footage or witness testimony from bystanders, also become more difficult to obtain as time goes on, a Gsoc source said.

Among the worst offenders in terms of complying with the reporting requirement was Kilkenny Garda Station which took an average of 62 days to make a report.

The data shows large and sometimes unexpected differences in the use of pepper spray across the country. For example, gardaí in Dundalk (which has a population of 34,496) used it 12 times since 2016, while gardaí in the much smaller town of Thurles (population 7,940) used it 48 times .

Gardaí in the Dublin urban area of Ballymun (population 21,626) used it 14 times while those in Buncrana, Co Donegal (population 6,785) used it 28 times.

The almost complete failure to comply with the notification directive has been a source of frustration for Gsoc for several years, to the extent that it raised the issue in its submission to the Commission on the Future of Policing earlier this year.

In response to queries from The Irish Times, a Gsoc spokeswoman said it has also raised the issue in correspondence with an Garda Síochána.

The spokeswoman also noted that this was not just a problem with rank and file gardaí, as notifications about use of force are sent by or on behalf of the Superintendent in an area.

“Notifications are received through District offices and it is clear senior management is aware of the breach of HQ Directive 10/10 where the notification is outside the 48-hours window,” the spokeswoman said.

An Garda Síochána did not respond to requests for comment.

Dedicated email address

In November 2017, the Ombudsman set up a dedicated email address for notifications in the hope it would help gardaí comply with the direction. This appears to have had some impact on the problem; since then the compliance rate has been 43 per cent.

Reacting to the data, The Irish Council for Civil Liberties said it shows “the current system is not functioning and requires urgent review”.

ICCL Executive Director Liam Herrick said the high rate of pepper spray use is of “serious concern”.

Mr Herrick added: “Given the complete failure to comply even with its own guidelines on reporting incidents within a reasonable time to Gsoc, it is difficult to have confidence that all incidents are being recorded.”

Sinn Féin justice spokesman Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire said the “flagrant” disregard of the 48-hour rule is “shocking and worrying”.

“It appears as though it is being almost systematically ignored,” Mr Ó Laoghaire said. “The statistics underline the fact that Gsoc is not currently taken seriously enough by gardaí, and that there is a need for a much more effective, more powerful, more compressive Ombudsman’s office which can properly hold the gardaí to account and investigate Garda actions.”