‘This should be a wake-up call’- GRA alarmed over alleged cuts

Report finds quarter of gardaí already taking DNA samples without proper training

The Garda Representative Association (GRA) expresses alarm at reports of budget cuts to DNA testing management in order to pay for last month’s visit of president Donald Trump. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien

The Garda Representative Association (GRA) expresses alarm at reports of budget cuts to DNA testing management in order to pay for last month’s visit of president Donald Trump. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien

 

The Garda Representative Association (GRA) has expressed alarm at reports of budget cuts to DNA testing management in order to pay for last month’s visit of president Donald Trump.

Staffing levels within the specialist section of An Garda Síochána that oversees the recording of DNA samples has been described as inadequate by one of the force’s own internal watchdogs.

A review by the Garda Professional Standards Unit (GPSU) last year of how gardaí handle forensic evidence and the DNA database identified a number of issues in how the force’s National Forensic Coordination Office (NFCO) managed and monitored the recording of DNA material including a lack of staffing.

It found current staffing levels within the section are inadequate and that a quarter of gardaí are taking DNA samples without being properly trained.

The estimated cost of the US president’s visit is €10 - €12 million; and further additional costs will arise if US vice president Mike Pence visits in September, as reported.

‘Wake-up call’

GRA General Secretary Pat Ennis said, “DNA profiling is one of the most powerful techniques in the identification of offenders and missing persons. It is an essential tool in crime investigation.

“This is the Garda Siochána’s own internal report highlighting under investment in training, ICT, staffing and facilities.

“We have been warning about this for years, yet now we see reports that the budget in these areas could be cut to pay for the visit of President Donald Trump and presumably vice president Mike Pence, if he comes.

“Irish people will be rightly annoyed if cases are not being detected or prosecuted due to the inadequate management of DNA testing. But to then hear that the cost of policing president Donald Trump’s visit could prevent these systems weaknesses being addressed will cause a justifiable public outcry.

“The GRA and others have already made the case that placing volumes of training material on the Garda portal without an adequate and corresponding classroom-based programme is not the way to deliver training.

“This should be a wake-up call for government that it needs to put money into training and ICT not cut it. The visit of president Trump will have to be paid for from some other source - not the Garda Siochana’s budget.”

‘How to’ video

The NFCO was established in 2015 as part of reform which saw the introduction of a new state-of-the-art DNA database system operated by Forensic Science Ireland,

The GPSU said 81 per cent of gardaí interviewed across 12 divisions said they were involved in the taking of DNA samples even though only 55 per cent said they had received some form of training on the taking, submission, retention and destruction of DNA samples.

Some gardaí explained they had used a “how to” video on the An Garda Síochána’s portal to access information.

The GPSU also found a lack of oversight and governance in relation to how garda divisions and districts responded to correspondence from the NFCO and to the submission of DNA samples to Forensic Science Ireland.

“Specifically the lack of appropriate staffing levels at NFCO is an organisational concern that needs urgent attention,” the GPSU said.

It concluded that a number of legislative provisions under the Criminal Justice (Forensic Evidence and DNA Database System) Act 2014 relating to the taking, retention and destruction of DNA samples were not being fully operated for a number of reasons including a lack of awareness and training.

The GPSU expressed hoped that the phased implementation of 38 specific recommendations it had made would “improve the processes and procedures in this critical policing area”.

In its latest annual report, the GPSU, which reviews the force’s operational, administrative and management performance, also expressed concern at the lack of progress to its own request for the recruitment of a business analyst which was first submitted in September 2017.

The watchdog said it still maintained that such a resource would provide considerable benefit to the work of the GPSU given its plans for future projects.

It added: “The skills of a business analyst, particularly with regard to the analysis of data, are considered essential to achieving these goals.”

An examination of drug-testing by gardaí by the GPSU concluded that the facility was not being utilised to its full potential due to the absence of legislative basis and a perceived lack of training and awareness.

The GPSU said the lack of acceptance of the process by judges in certain areas was also causing problems.

‘Stark reading’

Chief Superintendent John Nolan, the head of the GPSU said the findings of the Charleton Tribunal, which examined how gardaí handled whistleblowers within the force, had made “for stark reading”.

However, he said the importance of the work carried out by the GPSU was given added impetus by the Tribunal’s chairman, Mr Justice Peter Charleton, when he remarked that An Garda Síochána “must become a place where incompetence is not covered up, where laziness is called to account and where people respect their senior officers”.

Mr Nolan said the GPSU had endeavoured to aspire to the judge’s expectations by identifying organisational risks and opportunities in many policing areas through its work last year.

He said the obligations of gardaí as identified by Mr Justice Charleton were used by the GPSU to demonstrate the importance of organisational compliance with its inspection and review process.

Mr Nolan said last year had marked a major transition for the GPSU as it moved from geographic area examinations to more focused thematic reviews.

Among the first areas covered by the new work programme were standards in criminal prosecution, the service of summons, investigative interviewing and the embedding of the Code of Ethics within the force.

The unit also began publishing quarterly newsletters last year in order to communicate information regarding good practices and areas of concern to gardaí.