‘Lifestyle vetting’ and drug testing proposed for gardaí

Garda Commissioner Drew Harris sets out anti-corruption plans to Policing Authority

  Garda Commissioner Drew Harris: nothing is  more important for the Garda than its members being “honest and acting with integrity”. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Garda Commissioner Drew Harris: nothing is more important for the Garda than its members being “honest and acting with integrity”. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

 

Garda members may be tested for drugs and face vetting of their lifestyles, wealth and personal relationships as they seek promotions or transfers, or even take on sensitive new cases, Garda Commissioner Drew Harris has said.

Drug testing could be random or it could be “with cause”, in that information received about a Garda member may lead to their superior officers deciding a drug test should be carried out.

Mr Harris appeared before a meeting of the Policing Authority in Dublin on Wednesday.

A telephone line that callers could contact anonymously, dubbed “Corruption Stoppers” by Mr Harris, may also be established. It could help to create “a culture of deterrence and prevention”.

These “intrusive supervision” proposals were being “very actively considered” as part of a new anti-corruption unit that would investigate a wide range of activities.

While ongoing vetting of Garda members’ relationships and financial position may be difficult for those under scrutiny, the Garda force needed a very detailed picture of the lives of those within its own ranks, Mr Harris said.

He revealed last month the new anti-corruption unit was being established and would be operational by the end of the year.

‘Integrity building’

Head of the Policing Authority Josephine Feehily said she was pleased to see the anti-corruption unit would not have a “blinkered” view of corruption and would regarded its work as “integrity building”.

Ms Feehily added there could be very obvious evidence that a Garda member’s life was out of step with his or her responsibilities.

“Sometimes there is such evident lifestyle incongruity that you’d expect local management to be curious; lavish lifestyles that are not supported by the evidence available,” she said.

A Garda member may have other work outside the force but may not have supplied any information about this to the Garda authorities, and so their “lifestyle” may need to be investigated.

Mr Harris said random drug testing would be more likely for members of the force working in areas where they handled firearms or drove high-powered vehicles, for example.

While all gardaí were already vetted for security purposes where they joined the force, Mr Harris believed vetting should be performed repeatedly as members applied for promotions or transfers.

For example, vetting may identify a feature about a Garda member’s lifestyle that may leave them open to blackmail or coercion if they were transferred or promoted into an area where sensitive information was available.

‘Fairness’ and ‘ behaviour’

Mr Harris said he was not only seeking to tackle corruption in “a narrow sense”, or solely what he termed “dramatic” corruption. Instead, his approach to trying to identify and investigate corruption within the Garda would also focus on “fairness, behaviour and impartiality”.

He said nothing was more important for the Garda than its members being “honest and acting with integrity”.

The unit would examine any “inappropriate relationships”, including personal or sexual relationships between Garda members and vulnerable people or relationships with people involved in crime.

“It has to be called out as entirely inappropriate that a Garda member would in effect use their time and position in work, their trusted position in society, to pursue some sort of sexual relationship with an individual who may be vulnerable.”

Also coming under the remit of the anti-corruption unit are secondary business interests, “receiving perks” and conflicts of interest. Having business or work interests outside policing may be inappropriate for a Garda member, such as security work, but may also mean a member of the force was unavailable for some duties.

The new anti-corruption unit could also identify “hot spots” in policing, including those communities where complaints about gardaí were being most frequently made.