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Connolly, Johnny (2015) Report of the Garda Síochána Inspectorate. Drugnet Ireland, Issue 54, Summer 2015, pp. 17-18.

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The Garda Síochána Inspectorate was established under the Garda Síochána Act 2005, with a remit to ensure that the resources available to the Garda are used ‘so as to achieve and maintain the highest levels of efficiency and effectiveness in its operation and administration, as measured by reference to the best standards of comparable police services’.1 The implementation of the 200-plus recommendations of its latest report, Crime investigation, which consolidates outstanding recommendations from previous reports, could lead to the most fundamental reform of policing in the state since the foundation of An Garda Síochána in the mid-1920s – at least in terms of the way the policing service is internally organised and experienced by the public.2  

 

The report runs to 500 pages and recommendations are made in each of the 11 parts of the report – crime prevention, divisional policing, first response, incident recording, crime management, investigating crime, the victim experience, intelligence-led policing, investigation and detention of suspects, offender management and detecting and prosecuting crime. This article focuses on the key points made in reference to drug law enforcement, an aspect of policing that is relevant across most of the eleven areas.

 

The main focus of the report is on the policing of volume crime – assaults, burglary, domestic violence, vehicle crime and robbery. Such crimes are typically committed by prolific offenders and so ‘the targeting of police resources on hotspots, recidivist volume crime offenders and repeat victims can have a significant impact on crime levels and community safety’ (Introduction, p. 5). The Inspectorate carried out field visits to seven of the 28 garda divisions and to national units, and over 1,000 garda members were interviewed. Interviews with the Probation Service, HSE, Courts Service, County/City Managers, Joint Policing Committees and victim support groups were also conducted. Visits were made to the police services of Northern Ireland, England, Scotland, Wales and Denmark, and the US, Australian and New Zealand police services were consulted. Approximately 1,500 PULSE crime and incident records were examined.

 

Drugs as a trigger offence

Although drug offences were not one of the main categories of offence analysed in the report, the Inspectorate acknowledges that many volume crimes are carried out by prolific offenders who may commit crime to ‘fuel a drug habit’ (Part 2, p. 2). A difficulty in establishing the true nature of drug-related crime in Ireland relates to the absence of drug-testing upon arrest. In other jurisdictions police services test persons arrested for so-called ‘trigger offences’. These are usually acquisitive crimes such as burglary or robbery. A test can be conducted for six drug types with results in five minutes. This data can clarify the causes of crime and can be used for court purposes. It can also improve health care provision. The report calls for the mandatory drug testing of persons detained for ‘trigger offences’ (Recommendation 9.17).

 

Health care and demand reduction in garda stations

The Inspectorate recommends that the Garda engage with key partners to develop an effective drug arrest referral scheme for those detained in garda stations, whereby those with drug problems can be referred to treatment providers (Recommendation 9.7). The report highlights the trend in other jurisdictions for health services to take responsibility for commissioning medical care provision in police custody, including the employment of nurses to provide immediate care to detained person where needed. This has been found to improve health care and reduce criminal justice costs.

 

Crime victimisation and community impact

With regard to drug-related crime, recent research has highlighted the disproportionate impact it can have on specific communities, particularly those with embedded drug markets.3 The Inspectorate suggests that in order to reflect this community experience, the Garda Síochána should, in consultation with the Director of Public Prosecutions, ‘consider the use of Community Impact Assessments’ (Recommendation 7.5). In some jurisdictions, senior officers can complete such an assessment and this can inform policy responses including restorative justice interventions, partnership activity to tackle issues raised by the community and sentencing. In the context of drug markets, such an approach could be of value in directing responses to towards the most harmful markets – those involving violence, or open drug dealing or those involving young people.

   

Community policing and partnership approaches

The report highlights a new community policing model introduced in the North Central Division, involving a focused engagement with local stakeholders. However, it also notes that across all garda divisions visited, the number of community gardaí had been reduced, with two divisions effectively having none. The removal of community gardaí in some districts was an indirect consequence of the introduction of a new garda roster in 2012; a further contributory factor was the lack of value that appears to be placed on community policing activity within the police service. Specialist garda units raised concerns that many of their tasks, ‘such as community officers running local events or attending meetings, are not recorded on any IT system; so that supervisors can view their good work that contributes to community safety’ (Part 2, p. 24). It is acknowledged internationally that partnership responses involving local communities and statutory agencies provide the most sustainable responses to crime issues. However, participants in community meetings attended by the Inspectorate said that recurring anti-social behaviour was not being effectively addressed by the gardaí. The report recommends that the Garda Síochána conduct a review of the use of anti-social behaviour legislation (Recommendation 1.13). The report notes the often complex nature of such activity and the need for a partnership response. However, it highlights the absence of a statutory requirement among agencies to collaborate in tackling crime and disorder, with the consequence that partnership approaches across the divisions visited ‘operated in many different ways’, and that the ‘absence of a statutory footing for partnerships allows some agencies to disengage from joint working’ (Part 1, p. 10). The report highlights the importance of ensuring that Joint Policing Committees, established under the Garda Síochána Act 2005, ‘are fully engaged in crime prevention activity’ (Recommendation 1.14).

 

Crime statistics and the Central Statistics Office

From an examination of entries on the Garda Síochána PULSE IT system, the report identifies a significant number of problems associated with non-recording of crime, inaccurate recording of detection rates and inappropriate criminal prosecutions where original offences are downgraded to less serious offences. This has implications in relation to drug-related intimidation, where the victim might not want to make a written statement of complaint for fear of reprisal from the offender. The report reiterates the rule which is, if there is a reasonable probability that a crime has occurred, and no evidence to the contrary, then even if the victim does not want the matter taken any further, a crime should be recorded (Part 3, p. 27). The report recommends that a ‘national standard for incident recording’ needs to be introduced (Recommendation 3.32).  

 

In 2006, the responsibility for reporting crime was transferred to the Central Statistics Office (CSO). In order to address the deficiencies identified, the report recommends that the CSO should receive ‘all PULSE record incident data including non-crime categories to facilitate analysis and reporting of crime statistics’ (Recommendation 4.16), it should have a central role in the development of new crime counting rules (Recommendation 5.4) and the Department of Justice should initiate a process whereby the CSO would have a central role ‘towards the designation of a baseline year for crime recording’ (Recommendation 5.9). It also calls for the appointment of an independent body to conduct annual audits of incident and crime recording standards (Recommendation 5.10).

 

Prolific offenders and integrated offender management

Although the Garda Síochána operate a number of case management approaches to youth offenders and to prolific offenders who move across divisional and regional boundaries, the Inspectorate notes that this is limited in the Dublin Metropolitan Region: ‘Given the level of organised crime and gang related violence in and around Dublin, this is a missed opportunity…The Inspectorate visited two divisions in the DMR and found little evidence of co-ordinated plans to manage known prolific offenders who move across the city’ (Part 10, p. 6). Other jurisdictions in the UK and Europe operate integrated offender management (IOM) approaches. IOM involves the police, probation service, health service, prison service, housing and job seeker agencies in information sharing and joint assessment and planning to reduce offending. Sometimes agencies are co-located, thereby facilitating joint working. One of the aims of such approaches is to ‘break the cycle of persistent or prolific offending, particularly where drug or alcohol addiction is a factor in offending behaviour’ (Part 10, p. 9). The report provides a description and positive evaluations of such schemes in Cardiff and Hertfordshire, in the UK.

 

Adult cautions for drug possession offences

A significant drug-related recommendation in the report relates to the adult cautioning system. Adult cautions are used by most police services as an alternative way of dealing with an offender who may be a first –time offender. A person must admit the crime before the caution can be administered, and it is a formal process where bythe crime is then detected against them. This can prevent a lot of less serious crimes from reaching the courts. Although a caution system exists in Ireland for youth offenders and for some crimes committed by adults, adult cautions do not apply to drug possession offences. The Inspectorate states that, from interviewing garda members, some expressed ‘strong feelings about taking a young person to court for a small amount of cannabis. … A court conviction for drugs can have enormous consequences and in some cases, members are not issuing a summons’ (Part 11, p. 16). As a consequence, audits of drug cases conducted by garda divisions and districts have found ‘large numbers of cases where drugs have been seized and no proceedings have been taken’. The Inspectorate recommends that the Adult Caution scheme should be extended to drug possession cases (Recommendation 11.9).

 

Some final remarks

The overarching recommendation in the report is that the Department of Justice and Equality establish and task a criminal service justice group, involving all agencies and stakeholders responsible for community safety in Ireland, with overseeing the implementation of the recommendations in the report. It also recommends the adoption of a new divisional model for delivering services, including for the deployment of specialist units such as drugs units (Recommendation 2.1).

 

A central theme throughout the report is the need for an internal reorganisation of the police service, in particular through the better utilisation of police staff and a review of the new garda roster introduced in 2012, so as to release garda members for operational duties. The report concludes: ‘From the analysis of deployment data and from field visits to divisions and national units, it is clear…that garda resources are not currently deployed in terms of policing need and crime levels’ (Part 2, p. 18). The Inspectorate recommends that the Garda Síochána should design a ‘national resource allocation model that allocates resources fairly and matches resources to policing needs’ (Recommendation 2.10).

 

Perhaps the most consistent demand from the public when asked, in a recent study of illicit drug markets in Ireland, what was needed in response to crime was more gardaí on the beat.4 According to the Chief Inspector, Robert K.Olson, this issue will be addressed further by the Inspectorate as part of a ‘forthcoming review of the entire structure and administration of the Garda Síochána under the Haddington Road Agreement’ (Foreword, p. ii). Along with the recommendations of this report, this process could begin to address this long-standing community concern about policing.

 

    1. See www.gsnisp.ie
    2. Garda Inspectorate (2014) Crime investigation. Report of the Garda Síochána Inspectorate. Dublin: Garda Inspectorate. https://www.drugsandalcohol.ie/22967/
    3. Connolly J and Donovan A (2014) Illicit drug markets in Ireland. Dublin: National Advisory Committee on Drugs and Alcohol/ Health Research Board. https://www.drugsandalcohol.ie/22837/
    4. Connolly J (2014) Illicit drug markets in Ireland Drugnet Ireland (52): 1–5. https://www.drugsandalcohol.ie/23302/

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