Monday 16 July 2018

Garda records of crime so 'slack', lives were put at risk - analyst

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Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

Garda recording of hate crimes and domestic incidents is so "slack" that lives are being put at risk.

Violent suspects may also have been allowed to slip through the vetting process and work with vulnerable people because of countless routine errors.

In a series of extraordinary public statements, two civilian members of An Garda Síochána have outlined a litany of internal concerns which "fell on deaf ears" within the force.

Lois West, the deputy head of the Garda Síochána Analysis Service (GSAS), told an Oireachtas hearing that at one point she wrote a colleague an email stating: "We need to smack the organisation around the face with this. This is potentially very explosive if we are correct."

Ms West, along with senior crime and policing analyst Laura Galligan, outlined how rank-and-file gardaí have a "cavalier attitude" to recording crime.

They were put under pressure to sign-off on a flawed report, the Policing Authority ignored their concerns, and the Garda Pulse system doesn't have a category for 'hit and runs'.

Ms Galligan was tasked in July 2016 with conducting a 10-year review of domestic homicide figures, but quickly began to discover serious anomalies.

For months, she wrote reports citing examples of wrongly classified crimes and substandard data quality.

"In writing all these reports, and they were being sent up to management, nothing was changing. They were falling on deaf ears," she said.

Ms West said there was a "lack of consistency" in completing forms on the Pulse system, and in many cases crimes were not defined as being of a domestic nature. She said these records were important for assessing trends and in preventing potential crimes.

"It becomes very concerning for me in relation to areas such as domestic abuse. It's essentially to capture even the smallest of incidents. It may be the beginning of a pattern or an escalation," she said.

Ms Galligan added: "If there's a potential chance we could prevent a domestic homicide, I think as an organisation that's what we should be striving towards." The whistleblowers noted that the issue extended into Garda vetting, because if suspected offenders were not properly linked to a crime then "potentially we might be missing things".

In November 2016, Ms Galligan compiled a report on a sample period from 2013 to 2015 which identified 41 cases for attention. But there was "an apparent reluctance to countenance many of the issues we tried to raise".

Eventually Ms Galligan's methodology for reviewing cases was deemed too "inherently weak". "The integrity of both myself and my colleague, was, I felt, under attack," said Ms West. The civilians were put under pressure to sign off on a different report they knew to be "misleading". "We stood firm and didn't agree to sign-off on it," Ms West said.

She subsequently made four attempts to engage with the Policing Authority - but no meeting has ever taken place. Instead, the committee heard a member of Garda management was alerted to the contacts. "This was raised with me in the context of management trying to ascertain what my thinking was when I did this," she said.

She added that it was a "breach of trust" on the part of the authority which is supposed to operate completely independent of the force. Asked by Fine Gael's Colm Brophy if she felt "let down" by the authority, Ms West replied: "Yes."

The Policing Authority last night told the Irish Independent it will review the claims made by the analysts to see if action is needed "We are not commenting on specific contact that individuals may make with the authority. However, in general terms we can confirm that robust safeguards are in place to appropriately protect confidentiality," a spokesperson said.

Since part of the controversy found its way into the media, it has been agreed that Ms Galligan's methodology will now be used for a fresh review of statistics which is being overseen by a new Garda working group.

Irish Independent

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