Domestic violence surged by 25 per cent during the Covid-19 lockdown period but the Garda met the challenge by transforming the way it responded to the violence, the Policing Authority has said.
Some groups working with victims of domestic violence told the authority about “significant interventions” made by gardaí which they believed prevented domestic violence killings. One group said the service now being supplied by the Garda was the “best ever”.
The authority said the Garda anticipated the lockdown would result in a spike in domestic violence attacks and established Operation Faoiseamh to deal with the increase.
Under that operation, a total of 8,229 contacts or attempted contacts had been made with domestic violence victims, and some 107 prosecutions had been commenced, including for breaching barring and safety orders.
The authority commended the Garda’s performance in responding to domestic violence in its half-yearly review of how the force was meeting the objectives set out in its policing plan. However, there was still a “lack of understanding of the dynamics and dimensions of domestic abuse” in some parts of the Garda organisation.
While the Garda’s work during the pandemic, especially in getting closer to communities across the country, was regarded as very positive, some important goals set by the force for itself had not been met in the first six months of the year, partly due to the pandemic.
For example, training had been suspended for some projects including the roll-out of new domestic abuse risk assessment practices. There were also shortfalls in the planned better resourcing of Garda Síochána Analysis Service, which provides data to improve resource allocation in the force and more efficient policing responses to changing crime trends.
The Garda had also planned to produce a costed policing plan, based on more reliable data, but this was now “unlikely to be achieved” this year. There was also no workforce plan document that would set out the Garda’s staffing requirements across all parts of the force.
Change in ‘tone’
However, chairman of the Policing Authority Bob Collins said one of the positive features of the pandemic, and was most commented on by groups and individuals who had dealings with Garda members, was the positive change in “tone” taken by members of the force.
Garda Commissioner Drew Harris has previously said none of his members had to be told to change their “tone” or had to be advised on what tone to take. Instead, he said when Garda members had more time to engage with the community again during the pandemic – as most crime types plummeted – policing had “found itself again” in the Republic.
Mr Collins said a key challenge for the Garda organisation in the months and years ahead was trying to retain the clear progress made in policing during the pandemic period.
“There has been a real change in tone by individual gardaí, sometimes quite spontaneously, in their relationship to people and the response has been phenomenally good from people,” he said on RTÉ Radio 1.
He added that when the “intensity of the current emergency decreases, that same sense of engagement with people, that same sense of mutual respect, humanity, recognition, understanding will continue to be part of the way which the Garda Síochána delivers its services”.
Mr Collins acknowledged that some young people felt they did not have the “same warm experience” with the gardaí and it was a challenge for the gardaí to find new ways to engage with such groups.
For people who had difficult relations with the gardaí in the past, there was a barrier, they did not have the “warm, glowing Covid policing experience” that the vast majority had experienced, he said.
It was important to maintain the level of engagement achieved during the pandemic, said Mr Collins.