Policing Authority criticises garda reforms as ‘rebranding’

‘These hubs have the potential to develop the very inefficiencies and dysfunctions ... the divisional model is directed as remedying’

  Josephine Feehily, chair of the  Policing Authority, sent a report to Minister for Justice Charlie Fanagan expressing concern about changes to policing structures. File photograph: Alan Betson

Josephine Feehily, chair of the Policing Authority, sent a report to Minister for Justice Charlie Fanagan expressing concern about changes to policing structures. File photograph: Alan Betson

 

Promised reforms within An Garda Síochána to move from a local district policing model to a divisional structure risk becoming a “rebranding” exercise, a report by the Policing Authority has said.

One of the major recently proposed reforms of the police force would see resources divided between various specialist “hubs” in local areas, focused on crime, community engagement, governance and roads.

Under the reforms a superintendent would be responsible for a functional hub covering several districts, rather than the current system where they oversee all duties in a local district. The new model of policing is due to be trialled in four pilot areas.

In a report to Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan published by the Policing Authority on Monday, it raised concerns with the progress of the reforms to date.

The report said there was a danger the functional hub focusing on “community engagement” within each garda division could become a replacement for the local district structure the force was seeking to move away from.

There is a risk the community function could be perceived as an exercise in a “rebranding of the old district model rather than a new move to divisional policing,” the report said.

The Policing Authority provides oversight on the status of reforms within the gardaí.

“It could be argued that some divisions were essentially replacing the district superintendent with a community engagement superintendent in the same number of areas,” the report said.

“The number of community engagement hubs has been reduced but it is still significantly more than that envisioned by the Inspectorate,” it said. “These hubs have the potential to develop the very inefficiencies and dysfunctions, in terms of inconsistency of service to the public, that the divisional model is directed as remedying,” the report said.

‘Considerable misgivings’

The restructuring plans were set out in a 2015 report by the Garda Inspectorate, which is responsible for reviewing and advising on how resources are used by An Garda Síochána.

The Policing Authority’s report also raised concerns over the breakdown of policing functions into certain hubs. The report criticised the grouping of roads policing and governance into a single hub, as a “matter of strategic concern.”

Policing Authority chair Josephine Feehily said, in a letter to Mr Flanagan accompanying the report, that the concern was due to “the range of governance risks which have emerged in roads policing”.

The authority’s report said it had “considerable misgivings” about grouping the two elements together in the same functional area.

The report accepted roads policing was not a sufficiently large enough area to have a dedicated hub itself, and that pairing the role with overall crime could lead to the role being overshadowed.

Locating the role alongside governance work “does appear to be due to a lack of options rather than any strategic intent,” the report said.

The level of recruitment to see the reforms through in practice was also an area of concern raised in the report. “Civilian recruitment has not kept pace with the model’s development,” the report said.