Up to 500 high-priority crimes missed due to cancelled emergency calls

Analysis shows 13% of recent cancelled high-priority calls involved a crime – Harris

Cancelled calls: Drew Harris told the Policing Authority on Thursday that 5,971 ‘priority 1’ calls were examined in a recent analysis. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien/The Irish Times

Cancelled calls: Drew Harris told the Policing Authority on Thursday that 5,971 ‘priority 1’ calls were examined in a recent analysis. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien/The Irish Times

 

Between 400 and 500 high-priority crimes, including domestic violence, were not investigated by gardaí because 999 calls were inappropriately cancelled, according to interim results of a Garda review into the controversy.

Garda Commissioner Drew Harris said when the high-priority calls that were cancelled in 2019 and last year were recently analysed, 13 per cent of them were found to involve a crime.

Mr Harris told the Policing Authority on Thursday that 5,971 “priority 1” calls were examined. Some 2,700 were duplicate calls about the same incident. The details of the other calls were now being entered on the Garda’s Pulse database and so far about 13 per cent of them involved a crime. A large proportion of those crimes, he said, were “minor assaults”.

Based on that pattern, Mr Harris said the review was expected to show that the cancellation of the 5,871 priority 1 calls over the 22 months to last October resulted in the Garda missing between 400 and 500 crimes nationally during that period.

These crimes, averaging five per week across the country, were not investigated, though they should have been. While many more calls are yet to be examined, the outstanding cancelled calls relate to lower priority incidents.

Mr Harris said in some cases where no crime was found gardaí still should have made referrals to Tusla or other welfare agencies. But because calls were cancelled, referrals were not made.

In total, more than 200,000 emergency 999 calls were cancelled in the 22 months to the end of last October. Because that number was so high the Garda began its review by examining priority 1 calls. These relate to domestic violence, sexual assaults, in-progress burglaries and physical assaults, among other crimes.

Policing Authority chairman Bob Collins has confirmed an outside expert, Derek Penman, had been engaged to examine the review now being undertaken by the Garda into the cancelled call controversy. Mr Penman is a former assistant chief constable of Police Scotland. He was independent inspector of constabulary in Scotland between 2014 and 2018.

Last year it emerged the Garda was carrying out a review into 999 calls that had been cancelled by members of the force. It was feared thousands of people had been left with no policing service despite ringing the emergency number.

It also emerged that people whose calls were cancelled included domestic violence victims as well as others calling about sexual or physical assault and Mr Harris apologised to the public.

The review undertaken by the Garda has established some 1.4 million calls were made to 999 in the 22-month period under review, from the start of 2019 to the end of last October. Of those calls, some 203,000 were cancelled by Garda members.

However, when batches of cancelled calls were examined about 35 per cent were found to have been cancelled legitimately, many because they were duplicate calls about the same incident.

In another 20 per cent of cases, gardaí responded to the calls by going to check on a caller or at an address. However, the calls were still marked “cancelled”, meaning the gardaí involved did not have to create records about the incident on the Garda’s Pulse database. That is a regarded as a serious failure because early warning signs, especially relating to domestic abuse victims, cannot accrue if records of initial incidents are not recorded.