Garda accused of ‘inflating or carelessness’ in alcohol breath test data

Policing Authority concerned gardaí ‘may feel it appropriate to inflate data’

Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’ Sullivan speaking during the Policing Authority public meeting at Griffith College in Dublin. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’ Sullivan speaking during the Policing Authority public meeting at Griffith College in Dublin. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

 

Garda members had either inflated the number of alcohol breath tests carried out or had been careless in compiling records of test numbers, the Policing Authority chairperson Josephine Feehily has said.

Ms Feehily told Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan and her senior officers she was disappointed that she and her colleagues had not been informed of an audit into the discrepancy in the breath-testing figures that had not been made known her and her colleagues.

The existence of an audit into the fact the number of breath tests recorded by the Garda exceeded the number of test kits supplied to the force was reported by The Irish Times on Monday.

When an audit of the Cork and Kerry Garda divisions was carried out, it was found the number of tests recorded was 17 per cent higher than the number of kits supplied. This was despite the fact each testing kit can be used only once.

At a public meeting of the Policing Authority yesterday, Ms Feehily said she and her colleagues were concerned about the accuracy of the figures and why they might be wrong. The authority is an independent body which oversees the work of the Garda.

“We’ve just spent a while talking about embedding codes of ethics,” she told the officers at the end of a two-hour meeting yesterday.

“Well, arguably, when there are big discrepancies in statistics it’s not a boring, dusty subject for the shelf. It’s either inflated or carelessness when it’s not marginal.

“It’s hugely important management information. And it’s a hugely important feeder into the [crime] hot spot analysis.

“It’s the behaviours that might cause people to feel it was appropriate to inflate the data; and that, I think, is at the heart of our concern.”

She said authority members and senior Garda officers had already had a discussion about the issue at the policing committee, which takes place in private.

“We were a bit disappointed that we weren’t made aware of the audit as part of that conversation,” she said.

Roads policing

The next public meeting the authority will focus on roads policing because it was an important area of assessing policing performance, she said.

Authority member Dr Moling Ryan said the agency was “extremely troubled” to read, in The Irish Times, concerns expressed by the Medical Bureau of Road Safety around the accuracy of breath-test records maintained by the Garda.

Specifically, the bureau believes the number of tests recorded by the Garda exceeds the number of testing kits supplied to the force.

Deputy Commissioner John Tuomey said a number of measures aimed at tightening recording procedures had been introduced early last year.

This included the recording of test numbers from a unit used to process all tests in Garda stations around the State.

“In the last 12 months we have a specific audit trail; so number by number,” he said, adding the issue was with breath tests rather than drink-driving prosecutions.

However, because a report and audit exploring why there was a discrepancy in the data was still being drawn up he could not outline the reasons the figures were wrong.

“I think we have to await the final report before we can speak definitively on the issues,” he said.

Dr Ryan said if the breath-test figures were wrong this would lead the authority to be concerned about any records created on the Garda’s computerised Pulse database, including the general crime figures.