An Garda Síochána circles the wagons, again
In refusing to be browbeaten over flawed homicide figures, civilian employees showed steely determination
At the Oireachtas justice committee on Wednesday, deputy head of Garda Analysis Lois West and her colleague Laura Galligan complained their integrity had been undermined and attacked when they questioned the accuracy of a report compiled by senior gardaí on homicide numbers.
Plain speaking, steely determination and ethical commitment marked the testimony of two Garda Síochána civilian analysts when they gave evidence about the improper recording of homicide statistics before the Oireachtas Committee on Justice. Once again, Garda management had attempted to conceal administrative failings and, in the process, had pressurised the two women to sign off on a report that was “completely inaccurate”. They failed.
Deputy head of Garda Analysis Lois West and her colleague Laura Galligan complained their integrity had been undermined and attacked when they questioned the accuracy of a report compiled by senior gardaí on homicide numbers. This was not a statistical disagreement. Their concerns extended to the way in which gardaí treated domestic violence; vulnerable women and the families of homicide victims.
The initial research found problems with the recording of 43 homicides between 2013 and 2015. Eventually, after 10 months of insistence by the analysts, Garda management agreed this conclusion was accurate. And in the end 12 of the cases were completely reclassified as homicides, having been recorded initially as less serious crimes or non-crime incidents.
With grim familiarity, the initial response by Garda management to the issue was to ‘circle the wagons’ and pretend all was well. Avoiding further reputational damage appeared to be paramount. Later, it was acknowledged that the Pulse recording system – which provides for 16 different ways to classify a death – was completely unsound. Sudden death had been registered as “suspicious”, rather than as “homicide”. A murder and suicide were recorded as a ‘non crime’. Homicides were listed as public disorder incidents and had been entered in the wrong year or involving an incorrect weapon. Such inaccurate or incomplete records undermined the capacity to tackle and solve crime and protect potential victims.
As in other Garda disclosure cases, whistle- blowers received rough treatment. West spoke of 15 months of “torment” as she and her colleague persisted in their efforts to be heard and have their concerns acted upon. The Policing Authority had been contacted to express concern about the accuracy of the homicide report being prepared by senior gardaí but, equally worrying, it had not responded. She felt let down.
In refusing to be browbeaten, the civilian employees behaved ethically and showed considerable courage in exposing what amounted to a cover-up, and were commended for their actions by members of the justice committee. It should not end there. Relevant files are still being withheld from analysts. Civilianisation of the force is only in its infancy. Fresh approaches are required but, in reality, real and credible reform of the Garda is more distant than ever.