Garda crime statistics: yet another test of credibility

The common thread appears to be a massaging of figures to create a perception of efficiency

 

Can Garda management do anything right? Two years ago, the Central Statistic Office declined to publish crime figures because they were not reliable. It found the incidence of ordinary crime was under-reported in the Garda PULSE system while the detection rate was exaggerated.

Now we find that these recording ‘mistakes’ were compounded by an exaggeration of Garda activity in response to drink driving. The common thread appears to be a massaging of figures to create a perception of efficiency.

It took agencies from outside of the Department of Justice and the Garda Síochána to raise the alarm. The Central Statistics Office, independent of both organisations, was given responsibility for publishing crime data in 2005.

It accepted figures at face value until a review of 2011 Garda figures produced devastating results. Across a range of offences, one-in-six crimes were not recorded and detection rates were overstated by 10 per cent.

A parallel exercise, conducted in 2014 by the Garda Inspectorate, was even more damning. Apart from concerns involving the reclassification of serious crimes at local level, it found that 45 per cent of complaints involving domestic violence were not recorded. A follow-up review, conducted by the CSO last year, found the recording system had improved but that problems remained.

As reported by The Irish Times earlier this week, the credibility of Garda statistics suffered further damage in 2015. Another external body, the Medical Bureau of the Road Safety, noticed the number of breathalyser tests being recorded by gardaí on Pulse exceeded the number of breathalyser kits being supplied to them.

It coincided with criticism of the Garda authorities by the Road Safety Authority because of rising road deaths and a perceived drop in garda enforcement. An examination of figures for the Cork/Kerry districts found a discrepancy of 17 per cent between recorded tests and the availability of single-use breathalyser kits. The audit was subsequently expanded to cover all districts but the results have been withheld.

Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan has noted that statistical discrepancies occur in the figures for other police forces. So they do, but not to this extent. Forward planning and the allocation of scarce resources require accurate crime figures, just as garda discipline demands accountability.

Neither is currently available. Rather than a sinister conspiracy, this succession of failures may reflect poor Garda management and pressure from the top to do better. Whatever the reason, the situation cannot be tolerated.

The Policing Authority should be granted additional powers to facilitate the kind of root-and-branch reforms that took place in Northern Ireland. Previous governments baulked at that prospect and settled for incremental change. It has not worked.

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