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Wednesday 20 November 2019

Gardai demand more protection when on the beat

Pressure to meet targets affects crime solving


THE death of Garda Robbie McCallion, struck down by a stolen car driven by a youth high on drugs and alcohol in Letterkenny two years ago, should have been a turning point. The death of any garda in the course of duty was a matter of major import across Irish society. Somewhere along the way, that changed.

Garda McCallion's killer was cleared of manslaughter as there was insufficient evidence to convince a jury. His distraught family was left to grieve. His fellow officers were left wondering what, if any, protection they still have.

Writing in Garda Review magazine, the Garda Representative Association (GRA) wrote: "In other jurisdictions, police would not hesitate to draw a firearm and discharge a warning shot, before using it to prevent the escape. They would be fully supported by their laws... our laws are out of balance and favour criminals. As gardai, we demand legislation that protects us in the course of our duty."

Last week, long-serving gardai said they hoped the rumoured incoming government's public service redundancies would be introduced so they could leave.

One added: "The government and public will reap what they sow. They have ruined this job. All these new regulations and procedures. What were we doing wrong years ago when we were solving crime and there was none of these gangs? They laugh at us in the street now."

Several gardai referred to the case in Dublin of Garda Brendan Whitty, who spent three years waiting for a jury to find him innocent of assault after charges were brought against him at the behest of the Garda Ombudsman.

Garda Whitty, described by colleagues as an officer of the utmost probity, was charged with assaulting Keith Murphy, a violent drug addict with 30 convictions for assault, robbery and other offences. Murphy was involved in a fight with another man in Thomas Street when Garda Whitty intervened. Murphy assaulted Garda Whitty and resisted arrest. Garda Whitty drew his baton and struck him on the legs and lower body. Murphy died from a heroin overdose the same evening. Marks on his body as a result of his arrest were drawn to the attention of the Ombudsman, who charged Garda Whitty.

Garda Whitty, spent three years awaiting trial and had to pay his own defence costs. He was also suspended on half pay, but was ruled ineligible for free legal aid. Since his acquittal in Dublin Circuit Court last month, it is understood the GRA has agreed to pay some of his costs.

One of his colleagues last week drew a comparison between the financial hardship inflicted on Garda Whitty and the huge amount spent on free legal aid to criminals.

Another pointed to other countries where police are protected and expected to deal robustly with criminals.

"It's the situation now that the courts are content with a garda getting a slap or a punch. It's seen as an occupational hazard. If there was a very stringent penalty for interfering with police... some mandatory sentence. . if the courts or government made it unacceptable, criminals would think better," he said.

He referred to witnessing police abroad deal with an affray outside a bar. "The police got out with these big sticks. There is no guard going to do that since what happened to Brendan Whitty."

Older gardai say the force is being undermined by its own actions and management, and by a blind bureaucratic system that does not differentiate between gardai disbursing traffic tickets and solving serious crimes, leading to young gardai avoiding tackling criminals.

Under the Pulse system, gardai are rewarded for making "returns" and pressured to meet targets. Last year, gardai issued 380,575 on-the-spot fines to motorists for offences from speeding to parking on double yellow lines.

Meanwhile, there were 23 gang murders and only three charges. During the year, there were 6,386 robberies and 151,000 people had money or property stolen. Detection rates are extremely low.

In addition, young gardai are being encouraged to arrest and charge young people in possession of tiny amounts of cannabis, and addicts.

Older gardai say this is an indication of a force losing its way and turning against the public it is supposed to serve.

Sunday Independent

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