Gardaí need better technology - O'Toole


AN GARDA Síochána could identify newly emerging crime trends earlier and respond faster if better technology was made available to them, head of the Garda Inspectorate Kathleen O’Toole has said.

The former Boston police chief said any police force should not need to wait for crime trends, including gangland, to develop over long periods before they are identified.

While the Garda’s computer database, Pulse, was full of information, the data was often difficult to access and the system was not “user-friendly”. She made her comments at an appearance yesterday before the joint Oireachtas Justice Committee.

Ms O’Toole said that when she worked in Boston the police’s electronic database was fitted with mapping technology. It meant she could select an area on the map of Boston and immediately see a record of every crime recorded there over the previous 24 hours or for longer periods.

“I could see trends developing in real time rather than in a month or six weeks later,” she said. “Whether it’s roads policing or [tackling] guns, gangs or drugs we need real time information.”

If such technology were available here policing responses could be tailored immediately once new trends were identified. Such an approach was important in the current economic climate when resources were under pressure.

She believed the Garda’s new automated number plate recognition system would help catch not only those breaking the rules of the road, but also those in stolen cars and wanted criminals. The new system is in the final stages of procurement and will see 104 Garda cars fitted with cameras that read the number plates of vehicles passing in either direction.

It will be linked to the Pulse system and other vehicle databases. It will alert gardaí when a car passes that has been reported stolen or is owned by somebody wanted by gardaí in relation to criminal offences.

Ms O’Toole said community policing, and not specialist units, should be centre stage of any police force. Community policing resulted in more local patrols and helped the force gather intelligence to solve crime.

She was echoing the views of Garda Commissioner Fachtna Murphy, who, in an interview with The Irish Times on Monday, said plans to reinvigorate community policing were being finalised.

Ms O’Toole said An Garda Síochána enjoyed a relationship with the public that police forces in other countries could only aspire to. In a recent survey some 82 per cent of the public said they viewed the Garda positively.

“Those of us from North America are quite envious of that,” she said.

On road traffic enforcement she said while gardaí issued 198,989 speeding notices and recorded 19,837 drinking-driving detections in 2007, more work needed to be done.

Ms O’Toole said she was concerned at the lack of practical information for gardaí relating to a range of road policing issues, such as the safe erection of checkpoints and conducting roadside checks on heavy goods vehicles. She suggested a practical “handbook” for Garda members.