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Glaring inefficiencies in the Force

The biggest changes to garda work practices in the history of the force were recommended in last week's report by the Garda Chief Inspector, former Boston police commissioner Kathleen O'Toole.

The report has taken four years to complete and has uncovered massive waste in the allocation of resources.

Although the waste of resources and arcane work practices have been known about for decades, this is the first time that they have been publicly exposed.

The report should lead to major changes in work practices and the closure of many stations at nights.

Among a series of far-reaching changes, she recommends a complete overhaul of the old roster system so that far more gardai are on duty when they are most needed, mainly on weekend nights.

The recommendations from the Garda Inspectorate must be implemented under terms drawn up by government. If a garda commissioner fails to implement the recommended changes, he must explain why to government or face the sack.

Many of the O'Toole recommendations were made in the past, notably in the Strategic Management Initiative report in the mid-1990s. But there was no compulsion on garda management to implement them and the report was effectively shelved.

The O'Toole report states that garda management basically does not know how or where resources are being allocated.

In recommending the introduction of better work models, the report states: "Currently the biggest single deficit in the achievement of better resource allocation in the Garda Siochana is information. Garda management does not know the amount of police time being demanded by the public or how garda time is being spent. Without this information it is not possible to achieve potential efficiencies in the allocation of garda time."

She recommends the "immediate" establishment of a National Resource Deployment Team, including a member of the force and two outside experts in project management and resource analysis.

The report recommends the dumping of the old 'three relief' roster system, which has been in place in Dublin since the 19th century when young officers lived in stations. Now most young gardai travel long distances to their houses, which are often far outside Dublin.

The report recommends that rosters should be "consistent with the terms of the EU working time directive", which states that workers must have a break of at least 11 hours between shifts.

O'Toole also said: "Gardai must work no more than an average of 48 hours per week; receive a minimum break between shifts of 11 hours every 24 hours; work no more than eight hours in any period of 24 hours during which they work at night; work no more than four consecutive night shifts; receive a minimum of 36 consecutive hours of rest every week; start the day shift no earlier than 7am."

Garda management must also see to it that the new system "provides the flexibility to have the right numbers of gardai on operational duty to match the predicted levels of demand for police resources". At present the same numbers of gardai are available for work at 6am on a Monday morning in central Dublin as at 10pm on a Friday night.

A recommendation that has in the past raised some controversy is that the number of stations open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year in Dublin -- currently around 41 -- should be cut to improve efficiency.

This move was always objected to by politicians and by garda representatives when officials from the Department of Justice attempted to make changes. But the report includes a detailed analysis of what goes on in stations over a 24-hour period and shows that only a tiny amount of time between 10pm and 8am is spent handling crime.

An analysis of calls to Blanchardstown station -- an area with relatively high crime levels including more than 20 unsolved murders in the past two years -- revealed that between 10pm and 8am only 13 per cent of calls were to report crimes. An astonishing 30 per cent of calls were people looking for directions.

During the day, 63 per cent of calls to Blanchardstown were related to forms -- work that could be carried out by civilians. "The inspectorate has no reason to believe that the kinds of transactions carried out at Blanchardstown station are any different to those at any other station. The nature of those transactions is such that, as in other jurisdictions, they can be handled effectively without reliance on police powers."

Gardai in Dublin who have long been advocating changes point out that work practices in Ireland are years behind other forces.

One pointed out that Toronto, with a population of 2.5 million, has only three police stations open all night.

Sunday Independent