Transforming the Garda Síochána into a modern, efficient and effective police service – The Garda Inspectorate view

Transforming the Garda Síochána into a modern, efficient and effective police service – The Garda Inspectorate view

Robert Olson, Chief Inspector of An Garda Síochána Inspectorate, former Chief of Police in Minneapolis USA

Good afternoon and thank you for the opportunity to speak at this renowned forum. I am particularly grateful for the invitation to be involved here this afternoon to discuss Garda Reform and how to make improvements to ensure a visible, accessible and responsive police service.

I head up the Garda Síochána Inspectorate which is an independent statutory body established under the Garda Síochána Act 2005 and began its work almost exactly 10 years ago today. Its objective is to ensure that the resources available to the Garda Síochána are used to maintain and achieve the highest levels of effectiveness and efficiency in its operation and administration as measured against best international practice.

At the time I was appointed as Chief Inspector in 2012, I was joined by Mark Toland as a Deputy Chief Inspector. He served for 30 years in the Metropolitan Police Service.

The Inspectorate also has a small but very dedicated team of nine staff who assist with the all the intensive work essential to the production of our reports.

While all the reports produced by the Inspectorate have made recommendations for change, there are three which can be considered as particularly significant in the context of reforming and modernising the Garda Síochána. These particular reports are extremely wide in scope and breath. The reports were Resource Allocation, Crime Investigation and Changing Policing in Ireland and together they comprised a total of 320 detailed recommendations to improve the way policing can be delivered.

The most recent and the one which covered the overall structure and operation of the Garda service was submitted to the Minister for Justice and Equality late last year and was called ‘Changing Policing in Ireland’. The core aim of this review is to modernise and restructure the Garda Síochána to ensure that the greatest proportion of personnel is deployed on front-line policing services. If the recommendations contained in this report are implemented, the Garda Síochána will achieve best practice and be in a position to set international standards for policing.

Reports not implemented
During this review, the Inspectorate noted that a significant number of the recommendations made in one form or another in previous Inspectorate and other government sponsored reports over the last two decades, have not been implemented. Of particular interest was the Report of the Steering Group on the Efficiency and Effectiveness of the Garda Síochána, which was published in June 1997, and completed within the framework of the Strategic Management Initiative (SMI). The Inspectorate is of the opinion that many of the previous policing issues that resulted in inquiries, tribunals and government reports could have been minimised or avoided if the recommendations made in those reports had been implemented and some fundamental changes made.

The Garda Síochána is not alone in the need to implement a reform agenda. Every police service visited or researched by the Inspectorate has completed or is currently engaged in a major organisational reform and transformation programme. A common theme in all of those police services was the requirement for structural adjustments to support the change programmes. In all cases, these police services have addressed redundant bureaucratic process, significantly reduced the number of regions and divisions/districts and become leaner at the top in order to protect frontline services. Lessons learned by these police services during the process of modernisation have informed some of the recommendations made by us.

During our last two pieces of work, we consulted with over 2,500 Garda personnel and a broad range of external stakeholders, including local communities. The public consistently highlighted that they have noticed a reduction in police visibility and they want to see more uniformed gardaí in their communities.

These consultations included an examination of the culture of the organisation. It should be acknowledged that cultural strengths identified by garda personnel, include a ‘can do’ attitude and a sense of duty. Nevertheless, the current operational culture is inhibiting change and preventing the Garda Síochána from reaching their full potential. Many staff view their organisation as insular, defensive and operating with a blame culture, that results in leaders that are risk averse in making decisions.

Changing the organisational structure
To deliver a more visible, responsive and customer-focussed service, the Inspectorate has recommended a change in organisational structure that is leaner at the executive level, stronger at the foundation and empowered at the front line. It also recommends a new staffing framework to ensure the best combination of skills required by a modern police service.

To achieve real and meaningful reform we believe the following fundamental actions must happen:
• Change the structure and subsequently the culture of the organisation through amalgamation, rationalisation and empowerment of regions and divisions.
• Develop modern workforce practices and acquire the technological tools needed for the efficient and effective deployment of resources.
• Establish strong governance, leadership, supervision and performance management at all levels of the organisation.

The recommendations must be sequenced and executed in a transparent, holistic and strategic manner. In all recent reports we set out what should be implemented in the short, medium and long term.

We have recommended a significant change from a district to a divisional structure. As regards this county, Donegal is the policing Division and there are four districts, one of which is Ballyshannon, and within that district there are a number of local garda stations, including one here at Glenties.

The Garda Síochána currently operates with 6 regions, 28 divisions and 96 districts within which there are 124 individual duplicative administrative units. All 96 districts have the same type of units operating such as 96 administrative units, 96 community policing units and 96 detective units.

This is not an efficient structure.
• The Inspectorate has found a lack of consistency in the management of criminal investigations across the 96 districts and poor and inconsistent supervisory practices of those investigations.
• The current district non-physical dividing lines negatively impact on policing services.
• There is also an imbalance of allocation of members across the whole organisation that has caused many areas of the country to be under-staffed.

We believe that there are at least 1500 gardaí in non-operational posts that can be released for front-line duties. By creating 28 unified divisional administration units from the current 124 in existence, significant economies of scale will allow, as a first step, for the release of the 250 sworn administrative positions indentified in the Changing Policing in Ireland report for front line duties. The further amalgamation of several divisions recommended in the report will release even more.

As an example of how amalgamations could work we looked at the two Dublin city centre divisions. By combining 8 district and divisional administration units, with 5 sergeants, 22 Garda and 64 police staff, provides for an opportunity to release most of those members for re-deployment to other operational roles. The new unified administration could also be housed in one location for more efficient and effective operation and governance.

The 1500 members mentioned earlier does not include gardaí who are currently working at front desks, control rooms and looking after those detained in garda stations. In most other policing services, these types of duties are performed by civilian support staff.

Without accurate systems for recording demands for garda services, it is difficult to determine the staffing levels needed to provide a fully effective and efficient policing service across the country.

While there is no electronic resource management system in place at present, there is significant data available that could assist the Garda Síochána in identifying the level of resources needed for the new functional structure recommended by us. A long-term technological solution to manage resources, as previously recommended by the Inspectorate, has already been agreed and funding is in place.

However, the Garda Síochána cannot wait for the full implementation of such a system and must embark on a resource allocation and redistribution process immediately. Our last report provides a clear recommendation for determining the numbers required on an evidence basis by building new amalgamated divisions from the bottom up through to the region, national units and Headquarters.

Without accurate call demand and crime data it is very difficult to say how many gardaí are required. A key finding in the Crime Investigation report was the fact that not all 999 calls made by the public were actually recorded and not all crimes reported to gardaí were entered on the Garda crime recording system. Perhaps the greatest vulnerability is the lack of a national electronic call recording system. There is no place in modern policing for recording calls and deployments on pieces of paper.

Inaccurate calls demand data and inaccurate crime data affects resource allocation and deployment choices. The Garda Síochána must ensure that all incidents and crimes are accurately recorded in order to understand the demands for service.

While there is some data available from the current systems, the structure, governance and management information systems recommended in this report will provide more accurate data to enable the development of a robust and objective business case for the staffing needs of the organisation.

The Inspectorate believes that significant numbers of experienced officers could be redeployed to front-line duties. The Inspectorate recommended several initiatives to release gardaí to front-line duty in the short term by:
• The immediate hiring of large numbers of skilled garda staff to fill clerical and non-operational positions.
• And to release experienced officers to the front line through amalgamation of garda divisions and the removal of the inefficient district way of operation.

The Inspectorate has also identified a large number of positions that do not require sworn powers that are held by garda members, where there is potential for reassignment to suitable garda staff. As a result, the Inspectorate re-iterated a previous recommendation, accepted by the Garda Síochána; which stated that all future recruitment of police officers should be linked to progress towards achieving an initial minimum target ratio of one member of garda staff for every three serving police officers. The Inspectorate noted that a similar recommendation was made 20 years ago by the Garda Deployment Inter-Departmental Group Report.

Waste of Resources
As noted in several Inspectorate reports, potentially hundreds of thousands of valuable member and garda staff hours are being wasted all across the country on inefficient administrative and investigative processes. Our reports have made numerous recommendations that are aimed at improving ineffective processes and procedures that can ultimately lead to more gardaí deployed to front-line duties.

We have found some policies that are well thought-out and well-written, but the policy is not transferred into good service delivery. We found that those policies are not always implemented properly. Many new policies come without any training or direction and many units do not have supervisors. We found limited evidence of governance from Headquarters to make sure policies are complied with.

In many of our reports we have highlighted a significant gap in the supervision of patrolling gardaí. We found an absence of sergeants and inspectors on front-line operational duties. The physical presence of a sergeant or inspector is necessary to attend crime scenes, to provide guidance and support to inexperienced gardaí and to ensure that garda policy is implemented.

Front-line supervision and performance management are areas previously recommended for improvement by the Inspectorate and their importance cannot be overstated. During the review, the Inspectorate met significant numbers of hard working members and garda staff who identified a sense of frustration with colleagues who were under-performing and often this went unaddressed.

When you add this issue to the inefficient bureaucratic processes, lack of effective governance, supervision and technology, the true capacity of these dedicated members and garda staff will never be fully realised. If the performance capacity of the entire Garda workforce could be raised by just 10%, it would have the equivalent affect of increasing the level of police service provided to the country by 1,000 employees; without hiring anyone.

The requirements of a modern police force
The Inspectorate recognises the importance of governance, leadership and supervision in driving performance and makes several recommendations to strengthen the Garda Síochána’s position in this regard. ‘Changing Policing in Ireland’ addressed the Inspectorate’s remit through the lens of what the primary business requirements for a modern policing service in today’s world should be. It is about on-going reform of a police service and internal operational culture predicated on legitimacy, procedural justice, leadership, effective governance and transparency.

A police service that establishes, trains and embodies these concepts and communicates them both internally and externally in their every interaction with the communities they serve will be well on its way to becoming a modern, efficient and effective, truly professional, community-oriented and community-supported organisation.

The Inspectorate believes that unless the basic operational, structural, technological and governance changes recommended in our reports are implemented now, the Garda Síochána will continue to encounter the same challenges presented in trying to implement recommendations in previous reports. Without major change, the current Garda operational culture and structure will continue to challenge any modernisation or reform efforts. The Garda Síochána can no longer afford to let the past dictate the future.

The Inspectorate’s work is about changing policing in Ireland to deliver a visible, accessible and responsive service.

The Inspectorate is confident that if the implementation of the recommendations begin now and are properly sequenced over the coming years, the pathway for change outlined here will keep the Garda Síochána and the country on course to achieving a more efficient and effective police service for Ireland, today and tomorrow.

Book Tickets 2021