Garda Reserve expansion halted after Future of Policing criticisms

Drew Harris’s launch of review to initiate large-scale Garda reform laid out by commission

Garda reform: Drew Harris’s decision to halt the Reserve’s expansion raises questions about how the force will meet its target of expanding to 21,000 members by 2021. Photograph: Don Moloney/Press 22

Garda reform: Drew Harris’s decision to halt the Reserve’s expansion raises questions about how the force will meet its target of expanding to 21,000 members by 2021. Photograph: Don Moloney/Press 22

 

The future of the Garda Reserve is in question after a decision by Commissioner Drew Harris to halt its planned expansion pending a review of its role.

The Government last year announced plans to treble the size of the part-time, volunteer body to 2,000 by 2021, as part of its commitment to increase the strength of the force as a whole to 21,000 in the same period. The Government wanted to encourage its use as a route into the Garda Síochána and to expand its role from community patrols and events policing to serving summonses and penalty notices, to free full-time gardaí for more proactive duties.

The new commissioner’s decision to halt recruitment of reservists and carry out the review, after significant criticism of the Garda Reserve by the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland, is his first major effort to begin the large-scale reform that the commission laid out. Other reforms will take place under an implementation committee that will begin work in the new year.

In its final report, last September, the commission said the Garda Reserve system did not seem to be working well, that many reservists were not managed or trained properly and that reservists’ duties were ill-defined, which raised “issues of customer service and officer safety”.

“As recommended by the commission, a review of the Reserves is under way,” a Garda spokesman said. “Until that review is completed, major expansion of the Reserves is on hold.”

Youth programme

The review is likely to set out significant reforms, including in training, management and progression to the main force. The Garda is also to assess whether to establish a youth programme, to encourage teenagers to consider careers in policing by giving them a taste of its work. The commission said some similar programmes in the US, such as the Law Enforcement Exploring initiative, have been “effective ways to promote diversity of recruitment”. The American programme features duties that mirror many of those of the Garda Reserve.

Although major recruitment is on hold, the Garda Reserve will bring on an additional 90 members in the first half of 2019, to replace departing members. In May this year the Reserve had 558 members, down from a peak of 1,164 in 2013.

Mr Harris’s decision to halt its expansion raises questions about how the Garda will meet its 2021 target of expanding to 21,000 members, which was to be made up of 15,000 sworn members, 4,000 civilian staff and 2,000 reserves.

The Garda last week confirmed it would recruit 600 sworn gardaí next year, 200 fewer than planned. A spokesman said the 2021 target would not be affected by the decision. The savings are to be used to help fund the commission’s 50 recommendations for reform.