Garda watchdog ‘not remotely reassured’ by response to cancelled 999 calls

More than 2,500 incidents were closed for ‘invalid reasons’, internal review finds

Garda Commissioner Drew Harris said a lot of ‘rogue’ gardaí were operating in plain sight. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Garda Commissioner Drew Harris said a lot of ‘rogue’ gardaí were operating in plain sight. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

 

More than 2,500 999 calls were improperly cancelled by gardaí in 2019 and 2020, including 114 “crime incidents”, the Policing Authority has heard.

On Thursday, an authority meeting with Garda Commissioner Drew Harris heard the latest details of an internal review of emergency calls being improperly disposed of after being answered.

Just over 5,800 cancelled “priority 1” incidents were examined. These included domestic violence and sexual assault calls, as well as calls relating to missing persons and “health incidents”.

It found 2,689 of these were incidents that were closed for “invalid reasons”. Five per cent of these (114) related to “crime incidents”.

Mr Harris said efforts were ongoing to identify if action could still be taken regarding these criminal matters but that some were now statute barred.

Many of the cancelled calls related to domestic violence calls, where the caller later said that gardaí were not required. However, these should still have resulted in data being uploaded to the Pulse system and this was not done.

Senior gardaí told the Policing Authority that no one came to physical harm as a result of cancelled calls. Mr Harris called it a “service delivery failure”.

Deputy Commissioner Anne Marie McMahon said there was a “gap” in service provision that might have created a “potential risk to victims”. This is because information on barring orders or protection orders might not have been recorded on Pulse for future reference due to the calls being cancelled.

She said she was “satisfied” no one came to harm as a result of a lack of initial response.

Authority chairman Bob Collins said he was “perplexed in the extreme” by the claim the issue did not result in callers not receiving a police response.

He said he had listened to 999 calls which did not reflect this position. Mr Collins said he was “not remotely reassured” by the Garda responses.

Investigations into the cancelled calls are continuing, gardaí said. Most of the Garda staff involved in the improper cancellation of calls have been spoken to about the issue and appropriate Pulse records have now been created in the majority of cases.

Mr Harris also defended his handling of corruption and misconduct within the force. He detailed a initiative which will involve the reviewing of live investigations into gardaí accused of domestic violence or sexual assault.

The commissioner said he was dismayed by a series of recent incidents involving alleged corruption or criminal behaviour but that investigations into these matters were necessary to maintain public confidence.

“If I didn’t do it, the next commissioner would have to do it,” he said.

Mr Harris said it was difficult to say to what extent the Garda had been infiltrated by organised crime gangs, adding that “nothing is beyond” such gangs.

He said it would be naive to think the Garda did not have an issue in this area. He said he had a duty to protect gardaí from blackmail and corruption.

An inquiry into allegations that gardaí leaked sensitive information to the Hutch gang is ongoing and has resulted in two suspensions to date.

The commissioner said a lot of “rogue” gardaí were operating in plain sight and that nobody was particularly surprised when they become the subject of an investigation.