Tuesday 27 September 2016

Probe into 'massaging' of Garda crime stats

Rank-and-file Garda officers could lose power to 're-classify' crimes amid concerns of abuses

Published 10/05/2015 | 02:30

Garda are investigating after a man died in a car accident in Co Cork
Garda are investigating after a man died in a car accident in Co Cork

Turmoil over alleged massaging of crime figures by gardai may lead to a ban on rank-and-file officers re-classifying incidents.

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From today, it is now 180 days since the Central Statistics Office "temporarily suspended" the publication of recorded crime statistics, pending the outcome of a special internal inquiry.

In most cases, according to a damning report by the Garda Inspectorate published late last year, re-classification of incidents usually means them being downgraded to lesser offences or removed entirely.

A review is underway in three Garda divisions and, according to sources, it is expected that the power to downgrade crime - sometimes wiping crimes off the PULSE computer system completely - could be taken away from gardai.

The move on crime figures follows the decision last year to take the power of quashing traffic fines from local senior gardai and centralise this process to a single office headed by a single Garda superintendent in the traffic fines office in Thurles, Co Tipperary.

The practice of downgrading crime, which led to misleading statistics that some categories of serious crimes were "down" - was highlighted in last November's report by the independent Garda Inspectorate, which found disturbing discrepancies and widespread problems in the investigation of crime and collation of crime figures.

It found substantial evidence of serious crime, like assault, burglary, robbery and theft, were being 'under-recorded' by as much as 30pc in some Garda divisions.

Most dramatically, it found that 70pc of crimes that were 're-classified' by ordinary gardai on the PULSE system were "incorrectly" downgraded with "no recorded rationale".

The Garda Inspectorate recommended that this practice should be stopped and the power to re-classify crime be confined to "dedicated decision-makers" [essentially local senior officers] as happens in other police forces.

The same report by the Chief Inspector Robert K Olson, a former senior United States police officer, also found evidence of shambolic handling of crime investigation.

It noted that in some instances, crimes were being passed for investigation to detectives who had 'retired or who were on extended leave'.

One common practice highlighted in the Inspectorate report was for incidents of theft - very often of mobile phones - which were re-classified as "lost".

Another was for crimes not to be recorded on PULSE or re-classified under a category known as 'attention and complaint'. This was seen by the Inspectorate as an abuse of a traditional and useful system where gardai received reports that might give rise to crimes or accidents, such as cattle wandering on roads or rowdy behaviour being reported in public houses.

The Garda Inspectorate report revealed that a practice has grown among gardai of downgrading crimes like burglary and theft to what is termed a 'non-crime category' where the matters are not investigated or recorded as criminal offences.

On the day the report was published, the Central Statistics Office immediately stopped accepting Garda figures.

An "information notice" has now been on the CSO website for 173 days stating it has 'temporarily suspended' the publication of recorded crime statistics, pending an internal Garda investigation. A spokesman for the CSO declined to say when publication of crime statistics would resume.

A Garda spokesman also declined to say when publication of crime figures might begin again.

The spokesman said a pilot scheme started in January "to test new data review processes" and the findings from this scheme "will inform the measures to be taken by An Garda Siochana to address this issue".

Sunday Independent

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