Garda should not rush to adopt ‘failed policing technologies’

Security researcher says crowd-sourcing of policing tasks has led to arrest of innocent civilians

Sadhbh McCarthy, director of the Centre for Irish and European Security, said the Garda Inspectorate report highlights the “vast gap” in the technological capacity of An Garda Síochána compared with their European counterparts

There should be no rush to adopt “failed policing technologies” in the wake of the recent Garda Inspectorate report, an Irish researcher on security issues has said.

Sadhbh McCarthy, director of the Centre for Irish and European Security, said the report highlights the "vast gap" in the technological capacity of An Garda Síochána compared with their European counterparts.

Following publication of the report, Ms McCarthy wrote, commentators “fell over themselves” to point out that “the kids on the street could do things our own gardaí couldn’t”.

But she said she would question those quick to say that the Garda was “operating in the dark ages”.


According to the report, the lack of up-to-date technology dated, inefficient investigative processes and policies, poor internal audit controls, inconsistent case management, and poor supervisory practices had led to “systemic operational deficiencies”.

As a result, it said, potentially hundreds of thousands of Garda staff hours and resources, which should be devoted to frontline policing, were allocated to those inefficient processes.

“Many of the recommendations are dependent on the acquisition of modern technology used by most international police organisations,” it said.

Top priority

The report recommended that the first priority for strategically dealing with the deficiencies was the “immediate procurement of an integrated Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD), Human Resource Management (HRMS) and Criminal Investigation/Case Management system”.

It said that this technology “can provide the modern tools needed to inform more efficient and effective operational decisions, However, it cannot take the place of good management practices and supervision in the investigation of crime.”

Ms McCarthy said “techno-solutionism” (ie the idea that technology solves everything) can often cause more problems than those it originally set out to solve.

“Is it possible,” she asked, “that learning from the mistake of incorporating failed technologies, as other police forces have done, will leave ours in a better position to successfully implement technologies that will actually complement community policing?”

Hard to justify

She acknowledged that a lack of investment in back-office systems such as crime recording, call logging, and the gathering of reliable statistics, which were the basic foundations to any intelligence-led operation, was “hard to justify”.

Ms McCarthy warned that, in some cases, so-called “crowd-sourcing” of law enforcement tasks, using reports on social media, for example, had led to the arrest of innocent civilians.

“The Boston bombers is a classic example of this, where social media was embraced to solve a crime with the help of the public, but ended up contributing to the rise of false accusations of innocent citizens, which spilled over from social media sites and made it into national newspapers. Not to mention the mountain of subjective and irrelevant time-wasting information.”

She also noted the recent protests in Ferguson, Missouri, following the fatal shooting by police of 19-year-old Michael Brown.

“In this case however, the Ferguson police had bought into and actually bought military equipment and a militarised style of engagement that had its roots in the policing by the US of Baghdad and Kabul.

“This attempt to manage social unrest with militaristic ambition and the sort of sophisticated technologies developed and deployed by the department of defence has no place in the frontline policing of communities and civilians.”

The Centre for Irish and European Security, funded by the European Union, is focusing its current research on the ethical implications and societal impact of security policy and security technology.