Harris took harder stance than predecessors when sanctioning gardaí – Gsoc

Gsoc investigators sent 23 files to the DPP for possible criminal charges

Of the 96 sanctions imposed by Garda Commissioner Drew Harris for disciplinary breaches last year, fines or reductions in salary of up to four weeks were imposed in 49 cases. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA

Of the 96 sanctions imposed by Garda Commissioner Drew Harris for disciplinary breaches last year, fines or reductions in salary of up to four weeks were imposed in 49 cases. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA

 

Garda Commissioner Drew Harris has taken a harder approach than his predecessors when sanctioning members of the Garda who breach discipline, data published by the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission (Gsoc) shows.

Mr Harris has opted to fine gardaí or reduce their pay by up to four weeks salary far more often rather than offering them “advice”, which had been a much more common sanction before he took office, the data indicates.

Last year was Mr Harris’s first full year as commissioner in charge of the Garda Síochána as he took on the top job in the force in September 2018.

Separately, Gsoc, which accepts protected disclosures from members of the Garda, received 31 last year for investigation.

Gsoc also investigates complaints about Garda members made by members of the public, which can include complaints of a disciplinary nature or those that are more serious and are criminal in nature. Other complaints, below the level of disciplinary or criminal, can include issues such as rudeness by Garda members and these are often resolved informally.

However, when Gsoc sends the outcome of a disciplinary inquiry to the Garda commissioner, it is down to the commissioner to decide if the proven facts amount to a breach of discipline.

Mr Harris decided last year that 96 such cases were breaches of discipline, up from 74 in 2018 and from 66 in 2017. The significant increase last year was recorded despite complaints to Gsoc falling by almost 9 per cent.

The softest sanction a Garda commissioner can impose on a Garda member who is found to have breached the force’s disciplinary regulations is “advice”. This usually involves advising the Garda member in question about how to improve their conduct.

This softest option has generally been used by Garda commissioners more than any other penalty when sanctioning Garda members. About half of all disciplinary breaches were sanctioned with “advice” in 2017 and 2018.

However, during Mr Harris’s first full year in charge, last year, he used advice as a sanction in only one in five cases.

He has opted more often for the more serious sanction of fining the Garda members or reducing their salary by up to four weeks.

Of the 96 sanctions imposed by Mr Harris for disciplinary breaches last year, fines or reductions in salary of up to four weeks were imposed in 49 cases, just over half of all cases. In 2018 one in four cases was dealt with by way of fine or reduction in pay and in 2017 just over one in four cases was dealt with in that way.

Gsoc’s annual report for 2019, published on Tuesday, states some 1,756 complaints were made to it last in respect of 2,885 allegations (many complaints contain more than one allegation).

In 28 per cent of cases a neglect of duty on the part of Garda member was alleged, such as a failure to take an action that a member of the public would have expected. Some 18 per cent related to non-fatal offences, which involve allegations of criminal conduct including assaults. Another 18 per cent related to allegations that named Garda members had abused their authority, such as using excess force, and 10 per cent of cases related to discourtesy on the part of a Garda member.

As well as the 96 cases resulting in disciplinary sanctions imposed by Mr Harris, Gsoc investigators sent 23 files to the DPP for possible criminal charges. In five of those cases decisions were taken to prosecute Garda members, there were 14 directions not to prosecute and four decisions from the DPP were pending. The cases considered by the DPP include assaults, careless driving, disclosing information, thefts and frauds.

On 40 occasions last year Gsoc received notifications from the Garda that people had died or been seriously injured at or around the time they were dealing with members of the force. All such cases must, by law, be investigated by Gsoc. Of the notifications received last year, 16 involved fatalities and 24 related to road traffic crashes.