Saturday 23 February 2019

People in rural areas receive more limited service due to drop in garda numbers, review finds

(Stock picture)
(Stock picture)
Laura Larkin

Laura Larkin

PEOPLE in rural areas receive a more limited service due to the drop in garda numbers, a scathing review of the police force has found.

A Garda Inspectorate report which examined the theme Policing with Local Communities has concluded that An Garda Siochana is “well behind other comparable services”, with a lack of understanding about demand for services now or in the future and issues with planning and training.

The review found that the district model is too small in scale which has led to “ inefficient and inconsistent practices”.

There are often insufficient gardaí on duty at the right times to deal with local policing demands the review found.

Compared to urban areas “ there are often fewer gardaí available each day in more rural places and, as a result, communities in these areas often receive more limited services”, the review found.

When garda numbers dropped due to the austerity related recruitment embargo the force became more “reactive” and units that would be seen as more proactive such as task forces and community policing units have not had their numbers replenished despite an increase in garda strength recently.

The report is critical of the way in which resources are managed and the slow take up of technology to meet policing needs.

Concern was raised by the Inspectorate about supervision levels, especially given the inexperience of a lot of frontline staff.

Despite investment into the service the report also said “slow progress on civilianisation, the continual decline in the number of reserves, abstraction of members from key front-line policing roles and unnecessary bureaucracy” has hindered opportunities to maximise front line resources.

A lack of accountability in relation to overtime which is much higher than in other services was also flagged.

Meanwhile, under-performing gardai were also raised by members of the force “ in most interviews and people at all ranks estimated that a significant proportion” of gardaí under-performing.

An overhaul of performance procedures and new policies on attendance should be introduced to more effectively manage sickness and so-called ‘light duty’.

It notes that local communities have noted a drop in visible garda presence.  Fear of crime in rural areas was also identified by various organisations and people interviewed; with the combined challenges of geography, rural isolation and the closure of rural garda stations the inspectorate has recommended a “multi agency” crime prevention and reassurance partnership to tackle both crime and the fear of crime in rural areas.

While the areas of concern highlighted by the inspectorate were a problem across urban and rural districts some were more pronounced in rural Ireland; Areas with no community policing officers are all in rural areas.

Inconsistencies in detective training, armed response resources and other issues such as a lack of gardaí trained to drive vehicles with sirens and lights as well as a lack of 4x4 vehciles available to officers.

Nine actions have been recommended to address the issues including the introduction of garda clinics and shopfronts as well as online practices. An overhaul of the way the roster system is worked is also recommended.

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