Malingering among our gardaí must be arrested
Published 09/05/2015 | 02:30
What might be described as "slagging off the cops" is something of a national pastime in certain quarters in Ireland. All too often the comments are seriously ill-informed or are a cloak for some form of personal agenda.
And, in the case of many of us who observe from a removed distance An Garda Síochána going about their business, our observations on modern-day policing also run the risk of being over-simplistic.
For example, the often plaintive cry "we should have more gardaí on the ground'', may make little sense in the modern era of sophisticated, computerised technologies.
Yet there are instances where it would seem a more visible garda presence would be a clear deterrent to law breaking. An oft-quoted example is the sense of drug-fuelled menace, which is often palpable in the environs of Dublin's main thoroughfare.
Parts of O'Connell Street and its offshoots, such as the nearby boardwalks along the Liffey, can provoke more than a feeling of unease - particularly once darkness falls. Yet the garda presence in the area is decidedly hit and miss. Boots on the ground would surely make sense in this instance, if only from the viewpoint of protecting our image among tourists.
The approach of the policing authorities here is in sharp contrast to that operating in, for example, Paris, which has more than its share of crime ridden suburbs in the north of the city.
Yet all its prime tourist areas have a strict hands-on policing culture, ensuring it remains one of the safest and most visited cities in Europe.
Meanwhile, the closure of rural Garda stations in various parts of Ireland has been well aired over the past couple of years. We are now assured there are no more in the firing line.
Here again, the reality of new technology and its impact on modern-day policing must be acknowledged. The era of the village-based garda living more or less as part of the community has come to an end.
Yet the sense of unease - particularly among older people living in isolated rural areas - seems to be on the increase. The social dynamics of country life are in a ferment of change, and issues such as anti-social behaviour - and particularly the threat of burglary - has many of the elderly in a constant state of unease.
The Garda Inspectorate report issued late last year was blunt in its observations - all is far from well within the force. The overwhelming conclusion is that it will not be capable of fully reforming itself - change will have to be forced through by the power of external dynamics.
What is also clear is that the old top-down management system - superintendent to inspector to sergeant to garda - is in many cases dysfunctional. In particular, it facilitates the malingerer and the work-shy member of the force determined to "operate the system" and just get through the day by doing as little as possible.
But turning around behaviour patterns within a collective of over 14,000 people is not without its challenges - particularly when many of them are excellent police officers engaged in the front line fire-fighting of dangerous and violent crime.
Much of the fault for many of the problems in the gardaí must be laid at the door of various politicians - and particularly ministers for justice - over many years. For too long reform seemed more trouble than it was worth, and it was a case of hear no evil, see no evil, and leave well enough alone. Following on from the damming indictment of the Inspectorate findings, Minister Frances Fitzgerald now assures us that the force will be "fixed'' and "reformed''.
The Inspectorate's report highlighted various man-management problems. It would seem a greater will on the part of senior Garda management is required to reduce the unacceptably high level of misreporting or under reporting of crime. To the outsider the infamous Pulse system - classed as 1990s technology - remains an unresolved problem,fuelling unease that our statistics regarding crime and criminals are being manipulated.
There has also been criticism of gardaí who are allegedly over-fixated on minor road traffic misdemeanours because they notch up their personal prosecution total without too much effort. Yet one of the great achievements in Irish life over the last decade has been the reduction in road deaths - and a complete turnaround in our attitudes to drink driving.
The gardaí deserve much praise for the role they have played in all of this.
Various initiatives are in train, such as a new Policing Authority, the involvement of the Central Statistics Office in recording data, and the promise to improve technology even further. For the new Commissioner, and for our politicians, the challenge is to introduce change which will be felt by the rank and file.
And it should be acknowledge that countless gardaí at various levels are more than doing their job.
The Graham Dwyer case was the most recent high-profile example of doggedness and tenacious police work, which saw that justice was done, and seen to be done.
But as things stand too many members of An Garda Síochána are simply swinging the lead - and that simply can't go on.