Justice Committee Report on Crime Investigation 2014: Garda Inspectorate

14 January 2015

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Report on Crime Investigation 2014: Garda Inspectorate

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Senator Ivana Bacik: I join with others in welcoming all three witnesses and commend them on this excellent and really comprehensive report. It contains a great deal that members cannot hope to cover today but the joint committee will try to cover some parts of it.

I noted throughout the report a theme of good practices locally but an inconsistency with regard to overall adherence to appropriate standards, whether in respect of crime prevention, recording, detection or dealing with different types of crime such as domestic violence. That struck me as a really strong overriding theme. I will focus again on the issue of domestic violence and sexual offences, about which the Inspectorate makes some really clear recommendations. In respect of rape in particular and serious sexual assault investigations, the inspectorate does not agree with the Garda policy that such investigations can be performed by all front-line gardaí and considers it to be wrong. Rather than that, the inspectorate recommends there should be dedicated rape investigation units. I note that while the domestic violence and sexual offences unit is in place, the inspectorate commented on that by stating it appears to focus on sexual offences against children. Is the inspectorate therefore suggesting this unit should be expanded in order that it has a remit to cover all sorts of serious sexual assault investigations? Does it propose that a similar model should be used for domestic violence in order to have specialist gardaí dealing with that or is it more that front-line gardaí should be trained because they will be the first responders, particularly in domestic violence cases? I am not quite clear as to precisely how the inspectorate proposes this should be changed.

Mr. Mark Toland: The domestic violence and sexual assault unit effectively is a policy unit. While it performs some investigations, it tends to be involved in investigations into pornography or offences against children. On the domestic violence side, the unit's role is to monitor and to provide support to divisions. Each division in Ireland, of which there are 28, has a nominated inspector who is supposed to check each domestic violence incident but the volume of those crimes means this is not happening. I believe the central unit should be checking where there is a serious domestic violence incident or a serious allegation of rape. The unit should be contacting that division to make sure that everything possible is being done, to give the division advice and help, and to check that the matter is being investigated thoroughly.

As for what we are recommending, I believe there are 96 district stations in Ireland at present and effectively, we look at them as being 96 separate units. They work very much in isolation, have a superintendent in charge of them and one could have four or five districts within a division that could be operating completely differently, whereby they could be doing different things with the same crime.

Our report talks about divisions in Ireland, of which there are 28 at present, and we suggest that those divisions should investigate some serious offences with regard to some of the rape investigations and with regard to domestic violence in particular. We recommend they should have a divisional unit with experienced detectives to deal with those cases. Rape is one of the most difficult things to investigate as an investigator, and we have examples of young and inexperienced gardaí who currently are dealing with those cases and when we have spoken to people, they are finding it highly stressful. No investigation time is built into the current roster for many of those people and were it one of my family, I would want a trained investigator to investigate the crime. Consequently, we suggest local investigation units. The first garda will deal with it but a detective will then be called in who will take over that investigation because the attrition rates for serious sexual assaults are very high. One needs trained people to investigate that crime who are well aware of the criminal justice system and the points to prove for a very serious crime.

Ms Debra Kirby: If I may, I might add that because one is talking about volume crime in respect of domestic violence in particular, initially that first responder needs to be trained up. Moreover, he or she needs to be providing an adequate level of service across all of Ireland. Consequently, a lot of our focus is on the follow-up, which is where one can enable and create greater opportunities for follow-through on safety for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.

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Senator Ivana Bacik: My second question relates to the addendum regarding the Guerin report. The inspectorate makes the point that this was something it was asked to do pursuant to a request from the Minister. It does not make any additional recommendations, following this additional inquiry, on the basis that its recommendations cover the issues in the Guerin report. From my reading of the Guerin report, it seems - as was said - that supervision was a major issue and it has come out in the section on rape and domestic violence as in other sections. There was a lack of supervision of young and inexperienced gardaí dealing with crime investigation. What does the inspectorate think is the most significant recommendation it has made on that? I know it has made recommendations on enhanced supervision at all kinds of levels but where is the key area? The Guerin report in that small microcosm of cases identified so many difficulties with supervision.

Mr. Robert K. Olson: The theme that goes through this has to do with things we found in previous inspections, which is that one often has policies - they are pretty good ones, written well and state these things - and it is fine to have them but when we go out on the field we look at what is happening on the street. That is where these inconsistencies come up. It is where I think mistakes are made and the supervision issue that the Senator brought up is also a critical component of that. We found there was no significant audit of or follow-up to these incidents. As Mr. Mark Toland said, now they have specific inspectors and people who have specific tasks, which number so many that one could not count them. We found one person had 29 tasks for which they were responsible and they could not physically do them. We found - as I said in regard to the fixed charge penalty report - that nobody is watching the store, and that is what went on here. The sergeants are so busy doing all they are doing and the same applies to the inspectors, that there was no routine checking of every domestic violence call. As Mr. Mark Toland said, nobody was checking that. There might have been pockets of it happening but it is not consistently happening across the country. When the supervisors are not watching, and it does not matter if one is a private secretary or where one is based, the employees will often go off on their tangents and in police work, which is most important, bad things can happen.

Chairman:   Mr. Toland.

Mr. Mark Toland: It comes down to the absence of a patrol sergeant and I mean a sergeant that is out on patrol and not in a station doing administrative functions. Often a sergeant will be on duty but they will doing other administrative functions. There needs to be a patrol officer, a sergeant and an inspector available to go to the scene of an incident, to make sure a garda, whether experienced or inexperienced, deals with it effectively, and that they check, support, advise and mentor in that respect. There is an absence of that in some places, particularly in the more rural parts where they have struggled with the number of sergeants and inspectors who are available and some units do not have a sergeant to start with. There is no sergeant in place so one cannot criticise the sergeant. In other places they are tied up with all sorts of other supervisory functions, where there is an absence of someone out on patrol available to go to an incident to make sure that one gets it right first time.

Much time in Ireland is wasted having to go back to a scene to do something because the action that should have been taken at the time was not completed. A sergeant would make sure that those actions are taken, that the CCTV footage is collected and the statement is taken and that they would not have to go back to the scene. Once one has all the evidence, one can make much better decisions about who is going to investigate it. If one gets it wrong in the first, two or three hours of a crime incident, it is very hard to recover it. Mistakes are made very early on and it is due to the absence of a sergeant, a physical presence. Sergeants want to be present and we have recommended that there be a patrol sergeant. Many sergeants we met would love to do that role. Sergeants would be volunteering to go back to the front-line to do a role that meant they were doing what they enjoyed doing, which we all did, which is to be out and about, serving their community and dealing with the public, but also guiding youngsters.

The Garda is recruiting youngsters again and they are in Templemore. That system needs to be in place when they come out of Templemore to make sure that inexperienced gardaí in particular are well looked after, well mentored and that experience is passed on to them.

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Senator Ivana Bacik:   I wish to ask questions about Part V which deals with crime management. Everything is related but one thing that struck me is the fact that the Garda Síochána has no electronic crime management system which is a major obstacle to consistency.

The reclassification of offences has been mentioned in the study which found that only 13% of reclassifications were correct and often no rationale was provided as an explanation. The Garda Inspectorate and others identified this issue. In July 2013 the change was made in the Garda which required that the rationale for reclassification be given. Did the inspectorate see an improvement? Has there been any sign that the reclassification of offences, usually to more minor offences, has made an impact or improved the situation?

Mr. Mark Toland: The Garda issued two HQ directives or guidance notes or instructions to staff. They were issued, predominantly, after we had finished most of our PULSE analysis so it is difficult for me to say whether the situation has improved.   We looked at specific crime types. We found that 71% of the crimes that we looked at were reclassified incorrectly and only 13% were correctly reclassified. In some of the other cases there was insufficient information. We looked at particular crimes. We did not look at every crime type. It may well be that some other crime types or lesser offences were reclassified from one crime type to another. We did notice that a lot of crimes were reclassified as a non-crime category or vice versa and suggest that this matter be looked at.   One needs to get the classification right in order to reduce the number of crimes that are reclassified. Incorrect classification generates a huge amount of work. Therefore, we recommend a complete change in the way classification is managed. We also recommend that reclassification only take place once certain factors have been looked at and once the rationale is provided for same. We found that there may be very good reasons for reclassification but they were not recorded on PULSE. Therefore, we looked at something that did not explain why a crime was reclassified and there will be occasions where it is appropriate to do so.

Mr. Robert K. Olson: In addition to what has been said, and again looking at the fixed charge penalty system, we found that a lot of this goes back to the adage mentioned by Mr. Toland and applies to the other report. When one has 96 different commands making decisions on policies then one gets this problem.

As the committee can see in our report, we have again recommended that the deciding authority for the reclassification of these things is maintained in one specific place and by one specific entity so that there is consistent classification and reclassification. I am encouraged by the fact that the new Garda Commissioner has begun a process, at the Garda Information Service Centre. We recommended that the centre was the best place to house one clear authority that will decide whether a crime should be reclassified and its classification category.

Chairman:   I thank Mr. Olson and he can comment later if he wishes.

Ms Debra Kirby: Senator Bacik asked about HQ classification in July 2013. Ideally for the inspectorate, particularly in terms of the report on the fixed charge process and because of the new authority we were given to identify areas for review, and because classification and reclassification is such an important area, this is an area the inspectorate would go forward and look at. In the future we might be better informed, relative to the outcome of the July 2013 action, and based on our anticipated powers.

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Senator Ivana Bacik:   I have one follow-up question which relates to something the witnesses had addressed earlier in terms of the implementation of recommendations, which is always the critical issue. Deputy Mac Lochlainn asked about the working group to oversee the implementation of recommendations, and the witnesses answered that. In part 11 of the recommendations, at recommendation No. 21, the inspectorate also recommends that the Department of Justice and Equality would consider establishing a criminal justice board. This seems to me a more hands-on model to deal with issues around lapsing of criminal cases and addressing inefficiencies in the processes. Has that recommendation been adopted or does the inspectorate know if it is being considered?

Mr. Robert K. Olson: I think that is all in the works with the Department of Justice and Equality, or that is what I have been told. The Senator knows how Government works. It is working on making that happen.

Senator Ivana Bacik:   Is that an entity within the Garda Síochána?

Mr. Robert K. Olson: It would be an entity within the Department of Justice and Equality.

Senator Ivana Bacik:   Within the Department.

Mr. Mark Toland: There are three steps in that process. One is a board at a high level, which would include the Commissioner or a nominated deputy, plus the director of the Probation Service - a criminal justice board comprising the operational decision makers across Ireland. Second, under that level we recommend each division has a criminal justice group which brings all the practitioners together. Therefore, we would have a senior representative from the courts, a senior prosecutor, the senior probation officer and the divisional chief superintendent. These people can then implement the policies of the criminal justice board. Their role is to get through the blockages, to get trials through the courts more quickly and to ensure victims receive better services.

We recommend that the Garda Síochána would have a criminal justice prosecutions unit. Therefore, if a prosecutor wanted to contact somebody about a case, he could contact the criminal justice prosecutions unit. Also, if a victim wanted to find out what was happening in regard to the case, there would be a central unit within that division to provide for that. There would be three tiers - criminal justice units, groups and boards to provide for a more seamless criminal justice system.

Senator Ivana Bacik:   Thank you.

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