Irish News

Wednesday 23 July 2014

Man appointed to oversee force has never met Shatter

Boss of Garda Inspectorate says he has never received a whistleblower's report from Callinan

PHILIP RYAN

Published 09/03/2014|02:30

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Garda Inspectorate Chief Inspector, Bob Olson

Bob Olson, the Garda Inspectorate Chief Inspector, has made the astonishing admission that he has never met Alan Shatter since the Justice Minister appointed him to the senior position overseeing Garda operations two years ago.

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Former US police chief Mr Olson has had a career fighting crime that reads like a Hollywood movie plot.

He joined Omaha Police Department in Nebraska as a young man, and worked his way up the ranks to eventually become the Police Commissioner for Yonkers in New York City.

It was there he survived an assassination attempt while exposing links between criminals and city officials.

He later served on various high-profile advisory boards in the US where he consulted with Homeland Security and the FBI after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Now, the highly decorated police boss is tasked with casting an independent eye over our own force in is his role as Garda Inspectorate Chief Inspector.

He was appointed by Justice Minister Alan Shatter two years ago after initially serving as a deputy inspector when the office was first established in 2005.

But in his first interview since taking office, Mr Olson reveals he has never met Mr Shatter despite working in almost adjoining offices on Dublin's St Stephen's Green.

He says he has a good working relationship with Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan but claims he never received a whistleblower report from his office.

He met Garda Sergeant Maurice McCabe as part of his soon-to-be-published investigation into quashed penalty points and found him credible.

He says the Garda Siochana Ombudsman Commission (GSOC) bugging allegations are "scary", if true, because he "understands the technology", which can be used for surveillance.

Separately, he says gardai do not have the technology they need to "make good decisions".

The Garda Inspectorate carries out reviews of Garda operations at the request of the Justice Minister and forwards recommendations to the Commissioner, who enacts them where possible.

Mr Olson says his role is to help make the force "the most efficient and effective organisation it should be and could be with best international practice".

He adds: "Cops are cops, cultures are different and they do things sometimes in a different way, but cops are cops."

The Garda Inspectorate became a statutory body in 2005 when the Garda Siochana Act was passed in the wake of Morris tribunal findings of corruption against officers in Donegal.

The legislation was put through the Dail by former Justice Minister Michael McDowell, who Mr Olson describes as a "visionary".

The US law enforcer says Mr McDowell's predecessor, the late Brian Lenihan, was a "very nice gentleman".

He did not work closely with Dermot Ahern because he had returned to America for a few years.

Asked about his relationship with the current office holder, Mr Shatter, he says: "He's a busy man. I've never met him."

He adds: "He seems like a brilliant man, frankly, some of the stuff that he's engaged in, law changes, that kind of thing."

The seasoned police officer, who has felt the full force of public backlash during his career, says he has never experienced the intense criticism currently focused on Minister Shatter.

"I've been there before and I've never seen anything like this, three or four weeks of media hounding and back and forth and public displays – that's never good for anybody and I hope that it can get to some settlement," he says.

He adds: "I feel sorry for him frankly, it's tough enough. I mean politicians, they have to have tough skin because they're targets but boy he's had his share. I've been beat up by the media before, so I know what he's going through."

The alleged bugging of the GSOC's office is an issue Minister Shatter has gone to great lengths to deny during the recent run of controversies.

The police chief, who ran counter-surveillance operations on his office in New York while taking down mob bosses, describes the allegations as "troublesome".

"I understand the technology and that would scare me, understanding what those systems can do, that would scare me about finding that in my office," he says.

He has not felt the need to run checks on his own office as he believes anyone listening in would be "pretty bored".

Unlike his GSOC colleagues, who have regularly clashed with Garda headquarters, Mr Olson says he enjoys a good working relationship with Garda Commissioner Callinan.

"Martin and I have a disagreement, it's between him and I, in his office or in my office and it's sorted out. I don't mean to comment on the GSOC thing, I mean going public on that kind of stuff doesn't help," he said.

He says he has a "clear protocol" with the commissioner and his staff have not experienced resistance from Garda headquarters during their investigations.

"We get what we ask for, sometimes they don't have what we ask for, and if you look at some of our previous reports it's been very clear that there's a lot of areas where the guards do not have the technology they need to make good decisions."

The lack of a paper trail was an issue that arose in his most recent investigation into Garda Sergeant Maurice McCabe's allegations of improperly terminated penalty points. Minister Shatter will bring the report before Cabinet early next week and publish it soon after.

Previous Garda Inspectorate reports – specifically the review of front-line operations – sat on the minister's desk for almost a year before they were published.

Mr Oslon suggests reports are not published immediately so gardai can start implementing the recommendations before publication.

"What normally happens is that the Garda Siochana hurry up and start implementing these things so when it is published they can say 'we did it', which is great.

"See I don't care. We make recommendations, we'd like to see Garda do them and however that happens.

He adds: "I'm being a little facetious here, maybe that's not necessarily the reason but it certainly gives them time to do it."

Whistleblowing legislation is another bone of conte- ntion for the senior police chief and it has been an issue he has raised since he took office.

He claims to have never been given a single whistleblower report from the commissioner since he took office.

This is despite an obligation on the commissioner to forward all complaints of garda misconduct to his office once permission is sought from the whistleblower.

The commissioner cannot seek the permission because the whistleblower is supposed to be anonymous.

Mr Olson believes he could have asked the confidential recipient, who receives the complaints, to seek permission.

This has not happened since he took office.

"I've been trying to straighten it out but it's difficult to do," Mr Olson said.

He adds: "See, it doesn't tell the confidential recipient, they aren't directed to ask them, and the commissioner can't so it's obviously going to take some law change of some sort I suppose."

Having dealt with gun crime throughout his career, it is telling that he urges resistance to arming uniformed members for as long as possible.

"I keep saying it, the guards should hang on to not being armed, uniform armed, as long as they can.

"The US is too far down the road. It is too late, too many guns."

He adds: "That's why your murder rate is not as bad, because you don't have the accessibility to guns and you should keep your laws as tough and stringent as you possibly can.

And any criminal that is caught with a gun, he's got to have a long beard before you let him out."

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