Gardai have launched an internal inquiry into damning revelations that up to 10,000 crimes are 'disappearing' every year, the Sunday Independent can reveal.
Garda management launched the inquiry after it emerged that 're-classifying' crime downwards had become endemic in sections of the force.
In response to queries from the Sunday Independent, Garda management said the issue is being "taken very seriously" and it has appointed an "expert panel" to stop the practice.
Garda sources told this newspaper that in certain garda districts senior officers had been routinely telling gardai to re-classify crimes such as burglary, robbery, assault and theft down to less minor offences or to none at all.
The independent Garda Inspectorate last November estimated that as many as 67,000 crimes had been reclassified between 2008 and 2013, but could find no explanation for this. The report noted recorded crime incidents fell from 296,705 in 2008 to 229,597 in 2013.
Senior Garda sources said the downgrading of crimes has even impacted on murder investigations which, they say have been effectively dumped because of the amount of resources required to bring cases to court.
One source said that officers in one Dublin district were told that a murder was "just one crime". Garda sources said this attitude is reflected in the very low level of court cases and convictions in what are termed 'gangland' murders, particularly in Dublin, but with the exception of Limerick where gardai have very high levels of convictions in gang-related killings. Only about one in 10 gang-related murders in Dublin result in court proceedings.
A number of sources told the Sunday Independent that the re-classifying of crime was largely the responsibility of senior officers who ordered the offences to be downgraded to "keep their figures down".
However, the Garda Inspectorate found that ordinary rank-and-file gardai were also doctoring figures in order to avoid work.
As a result, the Inspectorate has now directed that specific senior gardai be given sole responsibility for all re-classification of crimes.
This is in line with the recommendations that came into place last year over the quashing of traffic fines which was previously at the discretion of senior officers. All appeals over traffic fines are now handled in one centralised office with no input allowed from other senior officers.
Last week gardai said there was widespread agreement with much of the Garda Inspectorate's 'Crime Investigation' report, which uncovered serious anomalies in the reporting of crime.
The Inspectorate was critical of the use of the PULSE system which allows any garda to log on and re-classify a crime into 'non-crime' categories, it was found.
In response to queries from the Sunday Independent about the apparent doctoring of the crime statistics, which has led the Central Statistics Office (CSO) to stop taking the Garda figures on face value, the Garda Press Office issued a statement saying: "The Garda Inspectorate's findings in relation to the classification of crime are being taken very seriously by An Garda Síochána. As the Commissioner said at the time of the publication of the Inspectorate's report, having the right data is critical to ensuring we can deliver an effective police service that responds to the needs of the communities we serve.
"Before and after the Inspectorate's report, the importance of recording all crimes correctly is regularly emphasised to all Garda members.
"Since the publication of the Inspectorate's report, we have been working closely with the CSO to provide them with the information they need. We have also been working with the Expert Panel established to look at the crime counting rules.
"A Data Quality Team has been established in GISC and once feedback from the three pilots has been evaluated, new processes will be put in place to address the issues raised in the Inspectorate's report."
However, the Garda Press Office could not say when it expected the Central Statistics Office to publish crime figures again, saying it was "a matter entirely for the CSO".
A "recorded crime information notice" stating the reasons for its refusal to accept Garda crime stats since the end of June last year was still on the CSO's website this weekend.
In its report, the Inspectorate highlighted a series of abuses where serious crimes were subsequently downgraded on the Garda PULSE system.
One incident, in which a victim was stabbed with a broken bottle, was "initially dealt with as a critical incident". However the brutal assault was reclassified as an "Attention and Complaints incident" because the victim did not want the crime to be investigated. In another incident a victim was hit on the head several times and taken to hospital. This was also reclassified a month later to an "assault minor", apparently by a trainee garda.
In another incident the report stated: "Victim punched in the face and had three teeth broken. An inspector stated that if the victim declined to provide a statement, the crime should be moved to a public order incident. The crime was reclassified twice, initially to a public order incident and then to an assault minor on the directions of the district officer."
According to garda sources, the cuts imposed on pay, overtime and allowances following the economic collapse prompted a de facto 'work to rule' by a large number of rank-and-file officers.
Sources also say the high annual number of officers subjected to investigations by the Garda Siochana Ombudsman Commission (GSOC) have had a big effect on morale in the force.
From 2008 to 2013 complaints were made against 13,429 Garda members, according to GSOC - a figure almost a thousand over the total number of gardai in the Force. This, sources say, combined with widespread dissatisfaction over pay and conditions has created deep anger within the ranks of uniformed operational gardai.
Complaints are being made about gardai at a rate of over 2,000 a year and only a tiny percentage are proven. But senior sources say the impact on gardai can be devastating. Many gardai have had to spend large amounts of their own money paying for defence solicitors to have their reputations cleared.
Gardai have launched another investigation into media leaks on foot of an official complaint from Sinn Fein about how information about alleged IRA abusers, passed on by the party, came to be reported in the media, the Sunday Independent has learned.