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Gardai not policing - unless you're a driver or drug user




Colin Keegan, Collins Dublin


If you are a driver or recreational drug user, you can expect no mercy from An Garda Siochana. These are two areas where the Garda definitely cannot be accused of slacking.

If you seriously assault someone; break into a house, ransack it and steal whatever you find worth taking; mug a tourist; or rob a young person's mobile phone or wallet, then you might find a more liberal interpretation of your actions. You might actually find your crime has been 're-classified' as a 'non-crime'.

In other words, if you are a committed, even dangerous criminal, you have a better chance of receiving the 'blind eye' treatment, but if you are one of the 600,000 to 700,000 drivers each year who transgress any traffic law, then you are automatically punished by way of fine and additional insurances costs from penalty points. The Garda are currently pulling in around €56m a year in fines from motorists.

Similarly, if you are one of the 10,000 to 12,000 mainly young people caught each year with as little as a joint of cannabis or an ecstasy tablet, then you can confidently expect the gardai will ensure you have a criminal record for the rest of your life. If you apply for a job that requires vetting, this will come up. You cannot apply for work visas in almost all developed countries outside the EU.

This year, gardai will prosecute around one-third of all drivers in the State, and young people arrested for smoking weed will have their future blighted.

This anomalous and patently unfair situation has worsened in recent years, sources say, particularly since the gardai had their overtime taken away in the post-boom public expenditure cuts. Gardai were hit hard, losing a variety of 'allowances' as well as overtime. "Gardai effectively went on strike, but the public didn't know it," one source told me last week.

The real criminals are the ones who have been benefiting from a system, which one senior garda last week referred to as 'Soviet' work practices that have crept into the force in recent times.

Under this system, as in the old Soviet Union, productivity and efficiency is not accurately measured. Gardai can pretty much do nothing at all, avoid arresting people for serious offences and even illegally 're-classify' crimes such as robbery and burglary down to lesser or 'non-offences' to make their lives easier.

Pursuing proper criminals requires time and effort. It may entail tough cross-examination under oath in the witness box. Criminal prosecution is still carried out by many dedicated gardai, but an extraordinarily large amount of crime is being siphoned off into lesser or even non-crime categories to avoid the difficulties of detailed investigation and court appearance.

This shocking situation was highlighted in last November's bleak report by the Garda Inspectorate on 'crime investigation'. It found blatant evidence of the wrongful 're-classification' of crime by ordinary rank-and-file gardai who are allowed to go onto the PULSE system and wipe real crimes off the record.

The Inspectorate found 70pc of crime re-classified by gardai was downgraded to lesser or 'non-crimes'. This is a simple, if reprehensible, process.

One of the most common abuses is going on to PULSE and re-recording a crime as a matter for 'Attention and Complaints'. This is a non-crime category that has been in existence as long as the force has existed. It is there for situations where the gardai might have received a call from a concerned member of the public about rowdy behaviour or, in rural areas, livestock wandering on the public highway.

Such incidents are recorded by gardai on duty at the time as an alert for fellow officers coming on shift later, in case there might be a crime arising from such a situation. It is an old-fashioned, key mechanism for crime prevention, not for hiding criminal offences.

Crimes such as theft are being hived off as 'Property Lost', a particularly insidious practice if seen from the point of view of a young person who has had their valuable mobile phone, with all their contacts, stolen by a drug addict or professional pick-pocket. Gardai don't have to investigate 'lost' property.

If done wilfully, the recording of a stolen mobile phone as 'lost' amounts to a conspiracy to pervert justice. No garda has been prosecuted for such an offence. Likewise, none has been known to have been investigated or prosecuted for re-classifying a robbery or burglary as criminal damage or petty larceny.

While the Garda Representative Association was last week bemoaning the problems in Garda management - and, in many instances, correctly so - at their annual conference, the ignored elephant in the debating chamber was last November's scathing report by the Garda Inspectorate.

This found evidence of widespread abuses in the force over crime-stat manipulation, most frequently occurring in the areas of serious crime, the types of crime that involve decent people being robbed or attacked as they try and go about their lives.

The Inspectorate report paints a picture of mean, uncaring and unjust practices becoming widespread in An Garda Siochana. And the GRA and Garda management can't adequately explain what is going on in terms of lack of technical expertise or modern communications systems.

The force has had the benefit of a modern communications system, the Garda Information Services Centre (GISC) based in Michael Davitt House in Castlebar, with 200 staff for almost a decade. This collates and disseminates crime data in real time, but is massively under-used or ignored by very large numbers of gardai.

Gardai simply fail to alert GISC or wait until the end of their shifts to log crimes, overwhelming the staff in Castlebar, whose job is to collate and re-distribute information about what could be life-saving detail of criminal activity.

The Inspectorate found there was an astounding backlog of 420,000 'review-clarifications' issued to gardai by GISC staff, seeking information on crimes that were not properly logged.

The two areas of policing where this cannot be said to be happening are under the traffic and drugs laws - with the exception of where the Misuse of Drugs Act applies to major drug dealers and importers.

Gardai like drug offences because they have a 'detection rate' each year of either 98pc or 99pc. (Burglary has a claimed detection rate of 25pc and the Garda Inspectorate report casts significant doubt on this).

Gardai can grab a young person smoking a joint at a festival and, bingo, they have an arrest, detection and successful prosecution.

An average year, such as 2009, shows how this system punishes the unwary and allows the drug barons, who have been responsible for as many as 200 unsolved gang murders in the past decade, get away while their stupid customers are punished in huge numbers.

In that year there were 21,698 'detected' drugs offences. Of these, 20,573 were recorded as 'possession for personal use'. A grand total of 46 persons were arrested for 'importation' and, sources say, the bulk of these were young people coming through airports with small amounts of drugs for personal use.

The road traffic prosecutions provide astounding results in terms of Garda detections and prosecutions.

Last year, some 223,191 motorists were prosecuted for speeding, a figure possibly justifiable if set against the reductions in road deaths in Ireland.

But a substantial number of these were motorists transgressing speed limits in places like slip roads, where no fatal accidents have ever occurred, but where traffic gardai know they are shooting fish in a barrel, as drivers fail to slow down sufficiently when coming off motorways.

Also last year, gardai carried out 407,514 breath tests on motorists, but charged only 7,797 motorists with being over the alcohol limit - that's about one in 52 people stopped and tested.

Some 30,524 motorists were prosecuted and fined for talking on their phones. And a further 20,255 drivers had their vehicles seized for transgressing the Road Traffic Act, most commonly, sources say, for not having tax, insurance or NCT. Motorists are the most taxed section of society and many people were broke in recent years, so very many simply couldn't afford to pay tax and insurance.

The imposition of traffic law, one former Traffic Corps officer said, has brought out the worst in control-freakery among some gardai.

One of the worst instances of this was when a garda seized a woman's car for no tax or insurance and left her at the side of a road with her young children in a blizzard during the big freeze in 2011-2012.

Last November's report by the Garda Inspectorate was one of the worst indictments ever of the Garda, but passed with relatively little attention or debate, its import swallowed up in the aftermath of the controversies that led to the departures of former Justice Minister Alan Shatter and Commissioner Martin Callinan.

It did, however, provide a service to the State in exposing shambolic and corrupt practices that have been allowed to pass for policing.

Sunday Independent