Q&A: How is technology modernising An Garda Siochana?

A closer look at the strategy laid out by Noirin O'Sullivan last summer

This time last year, Garda Commissioner Noirin O’Sullivan addressed the Association of Garda Superintendents and admitted that the force is 20 years behind where it should be, particularly when it comes to technology. Since that time she and her force published their five-year plan, called the “Modernisation and Renewal Strategy”.

I decided to take a look at the progress made since that strategy was published last June. 

In what way was the force was 20 years behind where it should be, particularly in terms of IT?

Without being flippant about it, the answer to that question is: in every way. The Garda Inspectorate published a report in November 2015, which illustrated a number of technological failings and detailed how they impacted the work of the Gardai. Here’s just a snippet of that report

“Some garda stations have no access to PULSE and some divisions have no 999 electronic call recording systems. Digital images and attachments, such as photographs and videos, cannot be sent within the Garda Síochána or externally, which limits the ability to provide crime investigation support remotely. Email continues to be a challenge for all personnel to access and use efficiently”.

We know that Commissioner O’Sullivan caused a stir last year for using a personal email address, that was put down to “due to restrictions with the garda email system such as e-mail size and storage". Has that been addressed?

Speaking to me last month, An Garda Siochana told me all users with an internal email can now send attachments up to 20MB. This was increased from 9MB to 20MB in 2014.

What exactly does the 'Modernisation and Renewal Strategy' entail?  

This is a ‘first of its kind’ document that was published last June. Up until that point, An Garda Siochana had never laid out a five-year strategy like this. It’s a wide-ranging document that highlights how things are done now, failings, recommendations and also suggested timelines by which actions could be completed. 

Over €200 million has been secured to invest in advanced information and communications technology.

Where will that money go and how it will benefit the running of the force?

We don’t have a full breakdown on every investment being made, but one strategy that is being worked on now and that will change how the Gardai work is the “Control Room Strategy”.

What does that entail?

Firstly, Control Rooms will be able to see the location and the capability of officers using situational awareness technology. This is - essentially, “Uber for the Gardai”. Those in the control room will be able to see where individual Gardai are and then deploy them where needed.

This will then improve the service to the public because background information will be given to the Garda responding to a call, on this system.

By using this method, trends will become clear and Gardai can then deal with surges in demand more effectively. All in all, this will reduce costs, but also increase productivity and performance in response to calls through economies of scale.

There’s an initiative called the Electronic RC1 (ERC1) that will facilitate the implementation of the overall ‘Control Room Strategy’.

This allows Gardai to record, store, retrieve, update and search information currently being recorded manually on the RC1 form. This includes details of the emergency calls received, the location of the incident and the responding officers. 

The solution has been deployed to three locations (Kildare, Wicklow, Sligo/Leitrim) in Q1 2017 and it will be rolled out to the remaining eleven Divisions by Q3 2017.

It’s hoped that an enhanced Computer Aided Dispatch system will be rolled out in Q4 of 2019.

Victims

The entire second chapter of this strategy document deals with the issue of improving communication between the force and victims of crime. It’s entitled “Putting victims at the heart of the Garda service”. It notes flaws in the communication between An Garda Siochana and victims of crime, stating some victims “have complained they have not received adequate information about the investigations into their complaints or were not fully informed about the support services available to them from other organisations.”

What is being done to address it?

In an attempt to address this issue, 28 Garda Victim Service Offices have been introduced. The aim of these offices is to provide victims with a “professional, consistent and caring service”. This action was commenced within the first few months of 2015 and has since been completed. 

Each GSVO is equipped with PULSE enabled workstations, public telephone lines, and an email account. All of this technology is used in the daily tasks carried out by the staff. 

The Garda Victim Service Offices are now the central coordination point of contact in every division for all victims of crime. This is said to enhance the ‘timely information flow’ between Gardai and the victims. All relevant and accurate information gathered by the GVSO is recorded on the PULSE system. They will also inform the District Offices in cases where a specialist Garda may be required to liaise with the victim or the victim’s family. 

Roads

This weekend saw Gardai use the new machines to detect drugs on the side of the road. There will be 86 of these devices around the country and 50 available for use at the side of the road. This will increase to 150.

But other technology is being used by the Gardai on an on-going basis. One example is Automatic Number Plate Recognition – or ANPR. This has been in use by the Gardai since 2010.

It can automatically read a car reg plate at a rate of six per second and on vehicles travelling up to 180 km/h.

This system also has a speed detection capability. It can measure the speed of a car travelling in front of the patrol vehicle. There’s a video camera too, which records on-the-scene evidence of speeding, as well as dangerous driving, crossing continuous white lines and breaking red lights.

This system can run in the background whilst Gardai are using the machine for other purposes.

ANPR can identify cars as being stolen, untaxed, no NCT, suspect or connected with some form of other activity that Gardai may be aware of.

Do all Garda cars have this?

ANPR was rolled out nationwide in 2010. There are no around 100 operational units and they have 3G technology. There are ANPR cars in every division.