The Irish Times view on Garda 999 calls: troubling gaps

An attitude persists within the Garda that recording incidents as sensitive as domestic violence is somehow optional

Garda Commissioner Drew Harris apologised to domestic violence victims whose emergency calls for help were not met with the kind of policing response they were entitled to.

The cancellation by Garda members of 999 emergency calls from victims of domestic violence has been described by the Policing Authority as troubling. In total, some 3,120 emergency 999 calls in 2019 and last year were classified as "cancelled". An inquiry has revealed the cancellation of just over one third of the calls was appropriate. In a further 20 per cent of cases, a Garda response was provided, though the calls were still classified as "cancelled". As a result, no record of the call was created on the Garda's Pulse database.

In the area of domestic violence those records of incidents are vital. When they accrue over time for the same address, victim or perpetrator, a pattern emerges. Interventions can happen and violence, up to and including murders, might be prevented. But if no records exist, early warning signs are lost. In some 45 per cent of calls marked cancelled, investigations are continuing. A further 19,000 cancelled calls – relating to other crimes – are yet to be checked.

It must be noted about 85 per cent of 999 calls about domestic violence were not cancelled. And even when calls were cancelled, only a tiny fraction of those callers received no policing response. But the Garda has been beset for years by poor record keeping; crime rates underestimated, detection rates inflated. Records of penalty points were also deliberately tampered with for years. The first suspension of the publication of crime data – because of its proven inaccuracy – occurred in 2014. Now, seven years on, the Central Statistics Office is still publishing that data "under reservation", meaning it cannot be certain the figures are accurate. Yet an attitude persists within the Garda, at least in some parts of the force, that recording incidents as sensitive as domestic violence is somehow optional.

Policing Authority chairman Bob Collins says the issue is so serious that the inquiry under way since last October cannot be left to the Garda to conduct itself. He plans to introduce outside scrutiny. Given the gravity of the issue, this must be expedited.