Crime data: a slow and partial Garda response

Any evidence that unlawful killings were classified as less serious crimes would be grave

The Policing Authority, led by chairperson Josephine Feehily, has since last April sought assurances from Garda Headquarters that, notwithstanding some errors in recording some cases, all homicides were investigated as they should have been. Photograph: Alan Betson

The Policing Authority, led by chairperson Josephine Feehily, has since last April sought assurances from Garda Headquarters that, notwithstanding some errors in recording some cases, all homicides were investigated as they should have been. Photograph: Alan Betson

 

Controversy around the Garda’s recording of homicide cases first emerged last April, but 10 months later the nature and seriousness of the problem is still not clear.

Senior Garda management has accepted there are shortcomings. For example, some 524 domestic deaths – that is, which took place in the home – between 2013 and 2015 were reviewed. Of those, 41 were flagged for further examination and 12 were eventually reclassified as homicides. Some had, for example, been classified in error as non-fatal assaults. Separately, the Garda also revealed last September that 89 road deaths between 2003 and 2017 that should have been classified as homicides were not. Instead of being recorded as death by dangerous driving, for example, they were recorded as speeding, drink driving and other offences.

Homicide is the term applied to any unlawful killing; murders, manslaughters, deaths by dangerous driving and others. Any misclassification of those crimes is a serious matter. But any evidence that some unlawful killings were classified as less serious crimes and, as a result, never afforded a Garda investigation commensurate with a homicide, would be grave.

No proof of that has emerged. But the Policing Authority has sought since last April assurances from Garda headquarters that, notwithstanding errors in recording some cases, all homicides were investigated as they should have been.

The Garda has offered verbal assurances. It has also undertaken a two-stage review of each case to be sure homicide investigations were conducted every time. However, the Policing Authority has said that review was not robust enough. It wants another process – this time independent of the officers who presided over the original investigations. The outcome of that is awaited.

The Central Statistics Office last June suspended the publication of any further crime data until the homicide issue was resolved. Eight months later that suspension remains in place.

Last month two Garda civilian staff made a protected disclosure to the Oireachtas Committee on Justice. They allege some homicide cases were not only incorrectly classified but were also not investigated as homicides. Those allegations must be robustly tested. A Garda delegation, led by acting Commissioner Dónall Ó Cualáin, is to appear before the Oireachtas committee today to answer questions. And the Policing Authority is holding a public meeting next week at which senior Garda officers will face questions on the homicide misclassification issue.

To date the Garda’s response has appeared slow and incomplete. Questions that undermine the justice system remain unanswered – a scenario Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan must address. Whatever the truth, it must be established in full and shared unambiguously.

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