Paul Williams: Latest Garda Inspectorate review details culture of self-preservation
Published 12/12/2015 | 02:30
The Garda Inspectorate's latest review of the garda force, 'Changing Policing in Ireland', provides a bleak evaluation of the organisation from top to bottom.
One of the overarching and disturbing conclusions in this forensic 384-page report is that it confirms the existence of a gulf between a top-heavy, self-interested management and the gardaí on the front line.
The offices in HQ are crammed with administrative staff while on the ground hard-pressed, grossly under-resourced gardaí complain of low morale and a sense that they are under-valued by the brass.
It sheds light on a culture that is, in reality, far removed from the one described in the jargon-laden language of managerialism from the top.
In one of its more damning findings, the Inspectorate describes a culture among elements of management that is defensive, insular, fearful of making decisions and focused on self-preservation.
The review noted that "the culture as set out in official garda documents is not clearly exhibited in the real working culture".
It continues: "The perceptions noted in previous pages of this part suggest that the Garda Síochána does not support the stated culture fully through structures, performance measurement, operational decisions and priorities nor is it consistently displayed in the way policing services are delivered."
The Inspectorate is highly critical of how the organisation polices the country, particularly in rural Ireland, where the authors note that the fear of crime is more acute.
It is equally critical of the lack of community policing while at the same time there are too many sworn officers sitting behind desks - with many carrying out functions that are often duplicated.
While the force is chronically under-resourced it has too many administrators in a bloated bureaucracy - too many chiefs and not enough Indians.
The revelation that there are 540 designated community gardai out of a total strength of just over 12,000 seems to fly in the face of the force's commitment to community policing.
One third of the country has no full-time community gardaí and counties Mayo and Kildare have none at all.
The majority of the 540 community gardai in the country, 328, are based in Dublin.
Much of the blame is levelled at budgetary cuts, the large drop in garda numbers and the introduction of a roster system which most gardai agree is not fit for purpose.
When the rosters were introduced, personnel in the existing four-unit structure were transferred to create a fifth unit, thus creating even greater manpower shortages.
In the process, designated community gardai were re-assigned to the new units in an attempt to make up the numbers.
The authors note: "The inspectorate found significant reductions in the numbers of Garda members assigned to community policing and some divisions have no dedicated community policing units."
There is no cybercrime unit and the gardaí generally lack anything close to adequate technological resources despite the fact that digital technology is now central to the investigation of most crimes.
The enquiry team that compiled this impressive review did what garda management has apparently failed to do - interviewed at length the rank-and-file officers and their supervisors at the coalface.
Gardaí of all ranks - rank-and-file, middle and more senior managers - described a culture of self-preservation that was insular and stultifying. This is old news to many of the hard-pressed gardaí on the frontline and has been often referred to by the two main garda representative bodies, the Garda Representative Association and the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors.
Over the years a civil-service-type mind-set has crept into the police culture where administrators and "desk jockies" are more likely to be promoted to the high ranks than operational officers who catch criminals for a living.
Gardaí told the Inspectorate that this officer class have created a risk-averse culture where decisions are avoided for fear of making a mistake that could affect promotional prospects.
In the garda vernacular it's labelled "covering your arse".
These individuals are described as "politicians in the job" who use their cushy posts, well behind the front line, to network and build contacts to edge up the ranks while more deserving officers don't have a chance because they lack the necessary "pull".
The names of several high-ranking officers who progressed this way are well known amongst the garda family.
Several of them have no experience in detecting crime, never made an arrest or given evidence in a court.
In turn they have ensured that their acolytes along the way, from similar "safe" backgrounds, are also given a helping hand up the greasy pole.