Gardaí frustrated at senior management’s aversion to car chases

Revised Garda policy: ‘Pull back, it’s not worth the risk,’ members are increasingly being told

Gardaí have expressed frustration at the frequency they are being ordered to call off vehicle pursuits of criminals.

There are now very few circumstances where gardaí will engage in a high-speed pursuit of suspected criminals, according to multiple sources.

This is due to a combination of factors, including a recently revised Garda policy on “managed containment” (the official term for vehicle pursuits), a lack of trained Garda drivers and control room operators and what is seen as an increasing aversion to risk among senior management.

“A lot of pursuits are just being shut down straight away,” said one Garda.

“It is something that has been noted by criminals, that if they drive down a wrong way road or through a housing estate, we won’t be allowed pursue them,” another said.

The managed containment policy was laid out in an extensive document published in 2019 by Garda headquarters.

"Members of An Garda Síochána will only resort to the use of such containment tactics if there is no realistic prospect of achieving the lawful objective without exposing members of An Garda Síochána, or anyone whom it is their duty to protect, to a real risk of harm or injury," a portion of the document that was made public reads.

A decision to engage in a pursuit must be proportional and necessary, it warns. It is understood the policy is largely based on one used by UK police forces.

A delegation from the Garda Representative Association (GRA) recently met with senior management to outline their concerns on the new policy.

“There’s very few circumstances now they are letting pursuits continue,” one garda said.

This includes in situations where a person refuses to stop for a garda. “They’re being told, ‘Pull back, it’s not worth the risk’.”

In such circumstances, gardaí are being told that failure to stop is merely a road traffic offence, which can be followed up later by calling to the offender’s home.

Three levels

There are three levels of garda driving training. Level 1 allows a garda to operate a patrol car but without sirens or speeding. Level 2 allows them to engage is some limited risky behaviour, while Level 3 is an advanced course that allows gardaí to engage in high-speed pursuits.

The new policy allows Level 2 drivers to engage in an initial pursuit of a suspect until a Level 3 driver can take over.

However, this rarely happens as there are so few trained Level 3 drivers, sources said. The majority of advanced driver training was suspended during the pandemic.

“It’s very frustrating for members as the public think that they are not doing their job,” said a garda.

One experienced officer said a decision to engage in a pursuit is a “balance of risks”.

“Is it worth pursing someone for a road traffic offence and risking the public’s lives? It’s about finding the balance between minimising public risk and not allowing criminals free rein in the knowledge they won’t be pursued.”

It is understood some senior officers in the Dublin region have also expressed frustration at the tendency to call off pursuits. This is in light of a recent increase in burglaries by criminal gangs in some areas.

“There’s a worry these gangs feel they can act with impunity in going to and away from houses,” a mid-ranking garda said.

A Garda spokesman said the force did not comment on meetings with representative bodies. It said the managed containment policy was under review as was standard with all Garda policies.

Training for driving courses is to recommence “on a priority basis”, he said.

“An Garda Síochána is satisfied there is sufficient operational capacity at this time to manage issues as they arise.”

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher is Crime Correspondent of The Irish Times