Saturday 22 October 2016

Garda HQ needs to rethink business-like approach to crime

Paul Williams

Published 01/07/2015 | 02:30

Garda Commissioner Noirin O'Sullivan
Garda Commissioner Noirin O'Sullivan

The decision by the Central Statistics Office (CSO) to resume the publication of the Garda crime figures leaves one major question - can the figures be trusted to give us a true and honest picture of the scale of law-breaking in our society and the Garda efforts to detect it?

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And the short answer, based on what we heard yesterday, and from past experience, is an emphatic no. The CSO took the unprecedented step of suspending publication of the crime data last year following a damning Garda Inspectorate report into the way the force was compiling data.

The independent Inspectorate found that gardaí were under-recording crime, while also exaggerating the force's success in detecting crime.

Over the past six months, the CSO has been working behind the scenes with Garda management to investigate the integrity of the force's system for recording crime and how to sort it out in the future.

The State's official number-crunching agency said that while it found "some issues" with the way crime is recorded by the Garda force, it decided to resume publication of recorded crime data while an ongoing review continues.

Crimes of burglary and assault are up by 8pc, while homicides are down by 40pc.

Statistics have always been important to accountable police organisations like An Garda Síochana. The data provides a picture of general trends in criminality and identifies areas which need extra attention.

But in the recent past, a new system referred to as "managerialism" has infected the policing system.

State bureaucracies like the Garda have embraced a management methodology modelled on efficient, profit-driven private sector companies.

The idea - where victims are called 'clients' and prisoners 'customers' - was introduced in recognition of the fact that police cannot actually reduce crime and therefore should at least be more financially efficient in how they run their "business".

Thus, quarterly crime stats have become increasingly important to the upper echelons of police forces who want to impress their political paymasters.

Any effort to "leak" figures is now seen as an act of espionage. Last December, the Irish Independent revealed over a number of days how burglary rates in Dublin were continuing to rise inexorably.

In keeping with the spirit of the new 'transparency' promised by Commissioner Noirin O'Sullivan, one of her most senior officers launched a secret operation to identify the whistle-blower - and silence them.

There were more hints of the business-like approach to the problem of crime yesterday in Ms O'Sullivan's pristine, corporate-style statement welcoming the publication of the figures like a CEO would their annual returns.

What stood out in particular was her comment about the 40pc drop in homicides, with the subliminal suggestion that this was due to the good work of the gardaí. It certainly had nothing to do with the pen-pushers and pseudo-academics nestling in their comfortable offices in the cloistered world of Garda HQ.

Irish Independent

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