Saturday 29 April 2017

Over €100m spent and stations still can't locate gardai on beat

Jim Cusack

Jim Cusack

EQUIPMENT that could tell garda stations where gardai are if they are under attack or in danger -- and also if they are skiving off work -- has not been included as part of the new €100m-plus 'Tetra' radio system.

The GPS (global positioning system) is used by police forces in America and across Europe, but the version opted for by an Garda Siochana appears to have missed out the vital equipment that could tell officers in stations where gardai are.

The new handsets and car radios contain the GPS electronics, but the station equipment to receive the signals wasn't installed.

Garda Headquarters does not comment on equipment issues and there was no reply to a question about the GPS in the Tetra system last week from the Garda Press Office.

But gardai have expressed concern and disappointment that the equipment has not been installed as part of the nationwide roll-out.

Gardai say the increasing numbers of attacks on gardai on the beat should be reason enough for the GPS equipment to be put in place.

In one incident in Ballymun this year, two gardai came under attack by a gang and narrowly missed serious or even fatal injuries when they were physically assaulted and had a beer barrel thrown at them from the balcony of one of the tower blocks.

They had the new Tetra radio and called for help, but the GPS would have informed the station immediately of precisely where they were.

One of the reasons the GPS equipment has been adopted in other jurisdictions is that it also prevents police skiving off work. The system would immediately let senior gardai know where a squad car was located and if it was being used for anything other than police work.

At present, some senior gardai do tours of their districts, in more or less the same way inspectors would have done in the era before radio communications, to ensure that gardai are working.

However, senior gardai in busy stations are snowed under with administrative duties and few have the time to inspect their gardai on duty.

Gardai themselves are generally happy with the system, which cannot be listened to on cheap scanners as the old system could. The old analogue radio system was unreliable and in recent years gardai used their own mobile phones for most communications.

As with most new technology in the force -- and elsewhere in the public service -- the Tetra system has had massive time and cost overruns.

Its introduction was first revealed in the late 1990s, then formally announced in 2001. There is no information available on its final cost but it is understood to have gone well over €100m.

Gardai say the exclusion of the GPS equipment is a flaw.

They point out that with GPS, if a garda was on his or her own and was knocked unconscious, their colleagues at the station would be able to locate them immediately.

Sunday Independent

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