Run Garda Síochána like a business, says reform commission head

Kathleen O’Toole: ‘I’ve joked before, the CEO of a major airline doesn’t need to be a pilot’

Kathleen O’Toole, who is leading the Commission on the Future of Policing: members of Garda Síochána need updated training, she says. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

Kathleen O’Toole, who is leading the Commission on the Future of Policing: members of Garda Síochána need updated training, she says. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

 

The head of the commission tasked with reforming An Garda Síochána believes the force should be run more like a business.

Kathleen O’Toole, who has previously served as police commissioner in Boston and as the head of the Garda Inspectorate, was appointed to lead the Commission on the Future of Policing last May.

In an interview with The Irish Times, Ms O’Toole said reform of the Garda must go far beyond simply appointing a new commissioner and she suggested an entirely new approach to recruitment is needed.

“They’re talking about increasing the size of the organisation to over 20,000 [staff]. How many corporations in Ireland have more than 20,000 and a €1.5 billion operating budget?” she asked. “You need to run these places like businesses, in addition to operating like a police service.”

Ms O’Toole, who also served as Seattle’s first female chief of police, said that by the time she left that position last year, six of her 12 senior management team were not sworn police officers.

“We had four PhDs, four [law graduates], an engineer and two career cops who never went to university but were brilliant people. We worked cohesively, we worked as a team, and we all brought different things to the table,” Ms O’Toole said. “At the end of the day, you need people with business acumen and leadership ability who can work cohesively and pull that off.”

‘The right person’

Asked if the new Garda commissioner needed to come from a policing background, Ms O’Toole responded: “I’ve joked before, the CEO of a major airline doesn’t need to be a pilot. I feel that it’s important to get the right person, someone with extraordinary leadership and management ability who understands that at the core of all of this is providing a service and working with the community, not apart from the community.”

Among the reforms being considered by the commission is a change to the practice of gardaí being posted away from where they grew up. Ms O’Toole said changes to this rule were under consideration with a view to ensuring a greater connection between gardaí and the community they serve.

Other recommendations being considered include greatly increasing ongoing training for gardaí, including in the area of responding to terror attacks.

“The world’s changing very quickly and police are expected to respond and address much more complicated issues. We need to give them updated training.

“We heard from a guard yesterday who has been on the job a considerable period of time and hasn’t received updated first-aid training since he started. That’s something very basic.”

Increased training in dealing with mental health sufferers is another area under consideration.

Mental health

Ms O’Toole said Seattle police worked with mental health experts who would accompany officers to scenes to help de-escalate situations. This helped with “dangerous barricade situations” as well as public order issues, she said.

Noting the Government’s decision to begin the search for a new Garda commissioner before she issues her report in September, Ms O’Toole said “in an ideal world” she would complete her work first.

But she added, her commission was working closely with the Department of Justice and the force during the recruitment process.

The 11-person commission, only two of whom have worked as police officers, have been travelling to public consultations around the country. A public meeting in the Wood Quay venue in Dublin is planned for this Monday at 6pm.

Members of the public are also being asked to make online submissions on the commission’s website before the deadline on January 31st. Ms O’Toole said she read all submissions personally.