Monday 26 September 2016

Policing by numbers lets real criminals off hook

Garda management's obsession with HR-led policing policies is a sham and a nonsense, writes Jim Cusack

Published 10/05/2015 | 02:30

Gardai say that a management obsession with statistics and a completely wrong system of assessing garda performance has created a crisis in policing
Gardai say that a management obsession with statistics and a completely wrong system of assessing garda performance has created a crisis in policing

Gardai say that a management obsession with statistics and a completely wrong system of assessing garda performance has created a crisis in policing.

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A number of serving and retired gardai who spoke last week about the 'main' problems the force faces referred not to resources or numbers of gardai, but to the "human resource" policies put in place in the 1990s. The key catch-phrase in this new HR-driven policing was "performance indicator".

Garda management became obsessed with the HR doctrine under which policing success could be 'measured' using the same quasi-scientific method of job evaluation that was first applied in assembly line production in the US.

Gardai, by their nature being people who question things, saw that this HR "performance indicator" system was a sham and nonsense.

A garda could arrest a teenager in a low-crime, middle-class area of Dublin, haul him before a district court and achieve a conviction. Under the performance indicator system of evaluating work this was a successful crime 'detection' and blindly regarded as a pinnacle of policing success.

About 13,000 such drug detection 'successes' are achieved annually by an Garda Siochana. Similarly, about 600,000 motorists are prosecuted each year for what are actually regarded as criminal driving offences. This too is taken as an indicator of the gardai doing a fine job.

Gardai - and they still exist - who set out to pursue a violent drug-addicted criminal who persistently causes harm to victims in aggravated burglaries and muggings are, under this system, wasting their time in terms of career evaluation that is based on 'numbers' and not 'quality' of work.

Under this 'HR policing', the worst possible form of 'performance' indication is the expensive and time-consuming process of tracking down and convicting a gangland murderer. There have been 200 gangland murders in the past decade and only a handful of them solved, mainly because they were not investigated, gardai said last week.

The performance-indicator dogma does not allow for variations in seriousness of offender or offences. Busting a kid for smoking a joint is the same as catching a murderer or a vile criminal who is a chronic threat to society.

The emphasis, possibly the only emphasis, in management is based on the visible performance indicators of garda districts and divisions.

So, a 'District Officer', the uniformed superintendent who should be the keystone of the proper policing of his allocated area of the nation is reduced to the role of a book-keeper whose job is to show 'good' statistics, no matter what is happening in reality.

He or she must answer to superiors right up to the Commissioner whose role, it has become evident over the past 20 years, is to be able to present Government with 'statistics' that show the Garda is doing a good job. Hence, every Minister for Justice up to the present has been able to welcome Garda crime figures which show 'drops' in offences and increases in 'detections'.

This is where policing has been going in the past 20 years since the term 'performance indicator' crept into the core of policing philosophy and corrupted it. The same damage done by this system is the main theme throughout The Wire, the hugely-popular US police drama series. The Baltimore cops' term for it being "juking the stats".

The gardai owe a debt of gratitude to the work carried out over the past two years by the Garda Inspectorate, led by former US cop Bob Olson. He and his team exposed the rot at the core of the HR-driven system and showed how gardai are, effectively, not doing their job any more.

Olson's work was somewhat lost in the furore last year over the quashing of penalty points and the departures of a Garda Commissioner and Minister for Justice.

The Inspectorate report, the only such evaluation of the Garda Siochana by a body with reputable international credentials, provides the basis for a return to the core philosophies of policing where officers of ability and moral courage are allowed to do their jobs and not become slaves to a nonsense 'human resource' model initially designed for putting more widgets into gadgets on a factory floor.

Sunday Independent

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