Garda Commissioner to face questions over cancelled 999 calls controversy

Internal review ongoing to determine how many calls ‘erroneously’ cancelled

Garda Commissioner Drew Harris is due to brief the Policing Authority on the progress of the review on Thursday during a public meeting. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Garda Commissioner Drew Harris is due to brief the Policing Authority on the progress of the review on Thursday during a public meeting. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

 

Garda Commissioner Drew Harris is to face questioning from the Policing Authority this week on the issue of emergency 999 calls being cancelled “erroneously”.

It is believed thousands of emergency calls have been cancelled by gardaí in recent years including some by women and children at risk of domestic violence.

Some of these calls were cancelled for legitimate reasons but it is suspected many were cancelled when they should have generated a policing response.

An internal review, consisting of an examination of each cancelled 999 call, is ongoing. Mr Harris is due to brief the Policing Authority on the progress of the review on Thursday during a public meeting.

“Commissioner Harris provided an update on this internal review at the last public meeting of the Policing Authority and will provide a further update at this month’s public meeting,” a Garda spokeswoman said.

The authority has already discussed the issue and has listened to recordings of cancelled calls.

In late April, Mr Harris told a meeting of the authority that a Garda audit had found many 999 calls had been cancelled, and therefore had not been given a policing response, between 2019 and October 2020.

At that time he was not able to say how many calls had been treated in this way, though the number was believed to be in the thousands and to involve a wide variety of calls and alleged crimes. Mr Harris added a major trawl was under way, including retrieving recordings of the emergency calls, to establish the volume and nature of the calls cancelled at source.

When that work was done, and other records were examined, a “definitive” number of cancelled calls would be established. However, Mr Harris said it may not be until the end of July before that became clear.

He added the matter was identified when an examination of the Garda’s computer-aided dispatch system was carried out. That system is used to record and map incoming 999 calls and police responses to them.

‘Systemic’ practice

When that examination was carried out, a “systemic” practice of cancelling calls, meaning the person seeking assistance received no policing response, was identified. Mr Harris explained the system had been changed to ensure that many calls could not be cancelled again.

He added that under the new system, calls could be cancelled only with permission of a supervisor. As a result, the number of cancelled calls now being examined was not increasing.

However, Mr Harris also said there were at times legitimate reasons for cancelling 999 calls. For example, some incidents would generate multiple calls when only one response was required. At other times, other emergency service responders were more suitable than the Garda to respond, while other calls could be “silent”. However, the audit being carried out was examining calls cancelled “erroneously”, he said.