Friday 31 October 2014

New training regime for gardai aims to rid force of 'group think'

Published 28/08/2014 | 02:30

Anne-Marie McMahon.
Anne-Marie McMahon.

A more open culture is being developed within the gardai to encourage members to be accountable for their actions, according to the director of training for the force.

The aim of reforms of garda training is to put an end to public perceptions of "group think" in the force and promote individual responses to problem solving.

Responding to trenchant criticism of garda culture in the past, Chief Supt Anne-Marie McMahon said the change in approach was aimed at producing gardai, who were appropriate for the policing needs of today.

But she pointed out that the changes stemmed from a review of training report, which was carried out in 2008, rather than a knee-jerk reaction to the more recent criticism.

She said she would also like to think there would be no "blue wall", a term used to describe an unofficial code where gardai remained silent rather than report the behaviour of colleagues.

The focus of the revised two-year training programme for the first batch of recruits in five years will be on individual responses to scenarios rather than rote learning.

A ban on recruitment in the public service has meant that the batch of 100, who will join up as students at the Garda College in Templemore, Co Tipperary, on Monday week, will be the first to arrive there since May 2009.

The recruits will spend an initial 34-week phase at the college before they are attested as probationers and assigned to stations for on the job training.

Critic

The biggest critic of the garda "culture" was Judge Peter Smithwick, who chaired the tribunal into alleged collusion between members of the force and the Provisional IRA, and stated that as a result of that culture, gardai prized loyalty over honesty. This was strenuously denied by then-commissioner, Martin Callinan.

But Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald has since also demanded urgent and fundamental change in the structure and culture of the force and she warned that proposed overarching reforms of the force would not be enough without the fundamental changes in the attitude and approach of each individual garda.

One of the senior officers at the college, Supt Pat McCabe said yesterday during an open day there, that the force had to take criticism on board and apply it. "We have to evolve with changing times and also have to become more accountable," he said.

He said there was a move away from the lecture hall style of training and, instead, the students would be presented with problems to solve, make their own decisions and then analyse them.

The new gardai coming out of the college would inevitably be different to their older colleagues and the intention was to prepare them to cope with those societal changes.

The recruits' programme resulting in a BA degree in applied policing, developed with the University of Limerick, for successful students will include seven modules focusing on issues they will face at work.

Earlier this year, the government promised three batches of 100 recruits each would be taken into Templemore by the end of this year. So far only 100 have been sanctioned. The rest may be approved within the next months but it is unlikely that the goal of maintaining the strength of the force at the red line figure of 13,000 will be met. It has slipped to 12,900.

Irish Independent

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