Policing Authority finds Garda has ‘casual attitude’ to exaggerated figures

Independent review found a deficit of accountability throughout the force

Josephine Feehily, chair of the Policing Authority: the authority’s review found Garda management had been slow to respond to concerns surrounding the falsification of breath-test figures. Photograph: Alan Betson

Josephine Feehily, chair of the Policing Authority: the authority’s review found Garda management had been slow to respond to concerns surrounding the falsification of breath-test figures. Photograph: Alan Betson

 

An Garda Síochána has taken a casual attitude to the public concern surrounding the widespread exaggeration of Garda figures, the Garda watchdog has found.

An independent review by the Policing Authority says Garda management has been slow to respond to concerns surrounding the falsification of breath-test figures and there has been no attempt to take swift or effective action at central and local management level.

This failure to recognise the severity of the problem further compounded serious concerns about governance and authority within the force, the authority said.

The report, carried out by Crowe Horwath on the authority’s behalf, said there was a deficit of accountability throughout the force that led to these issues being allowed to fester for years.

The Policing Authority advised the level of discrepancy in Garda breath test figures was significantly greater than the 1.458 million reported by An Garda Síochána.

While it said the extent of the issue will “probably never be known”, the authority said there may be an additional 400,000 wrongly claimed as being carried out.

It listed a number of reasons for the exaggeration of data including a tendency by gardaí to overestimate, “guesstimate”, and/or round up the actual numbers of tests performed at mandatory drink-driving checkpoints.

This was based on an implicit pressure on rank and file members to get the numbers up, the report stated.

Some gardaí reported supervisory sergeants suggesting the numbers should be inflated to comply with management expectations.

Frontline supervision

Others reported taking advantage of the lack of frontline supervision, allowing them to remain in the station or patrol car instead of conducting the authorised checkpoint.

All checkpoints are required by legislation to be approved by a member above inspector rank. The report found the focus at all levels of the force was on the number of checkpoints authorised, rather than if they were conducted or not.

Targets for checkpoints were set in divisional policing plans as far back as 2009 and the most recent Modernisation and Renewal Programme in 2016 committed to a 10 per cent increase every year in the numbers conducted.

Gardaí responded to those set figures as implicit pressure to deliberately falsify data, a practice that was deemed acceptable, but the authority said there was no evidence to suggest any individual garda benefitted from the false data.

The report was also critical of the reduction in supervisory ranks stressing this reduced the ability of An Garda Síochána to provide adequate supervision and support.

No expectation

This allowed a culture to develop where there was no expectation among frontline staff that the numbers they inputted would be checked or their actions supervised.

The report said: “We have a concern that national level statistics continued to rise at a time when human resources were being cut, when overtime budgets were being squeezed, and when frontline supervision was reducing – yet no one at senior management level seemed to say ‘this appears to be too good to be true’.”

The report also examined the issuing of fixed-charge notices and said a series of deficiencies led to the wrongful conviction of 14,500 people.

These included highly complex traffic legislation, inadequate training for gardaí, the lack of suitable technology at the roadside to aid in prosecutions and a loophole in the Pulse system.

Very significant issues remained and the authority believed all road traffic legislation should be streamlined and simplified.

Overall, the Garda watchdog said Garda management must now provide a permanent solution to all the problems and provide assurances there would be no reoccurrence.