Opinion: The pace of change in An Garda Siochana is shocking

Our force need to do more to embrace new methods of policing

Opinion: The pace of change in An Garda Siochana is shocking

Image: RollingNews.ie

One Friday night, three years ago, my bag was stolen outside of a pub in Dublin city. It was around 11 pm on a warm evening and I was with a group of work friends celebrating something or other. 

We were standing in the outdoor area at the front of the pub when someone ran by us. The person running had taken my bag. I didn’t overly care about the bag but was devastated about my wallet because it had a photo of my granddad, who is no longer with us. Seeing my upset, two of my friends went looking for the guy who took it whilst a third friend called An Garda Siochana. 

Two Gardai arrived on site and this was my first encounter with the force.

One Garda took a statement from me, as well as a list of the items in my bag. She wrote the details into a small notebook with a pen. I remember watching her in amazement that it was being done in such an old-school fashion.

I clearly remember the female Garda’s badge number as she went on to find my bag and wallet, photo intact, within 30 minutes. Cash was taken, but I didn’t care.

At the time, I thought no more of it. I got my stuff back so the notebook clearly does the job!

Technology 

As I had no real experience in dealing with the Gardai, I was struck by Commissioner Noirin O’Sullivan’s comments last year when she stated the force is 20 years behind where it should be, particularly in terms of IT. The notebook from the night of my bag robbery flashed into my mind and I started to look into it some more.

I read the Garda Inspectorate report of November 2015 and could not quite believe how inadequate the systems are in place today really are.

“Some garda stations have no access to PULSE and some divisions have no 999 electronic call recording systems," says the report. "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”. 

These are basic issues. 

Certain police stations cannot log crimes, complaints or anything at all in the centralised information system, PULSE. The sentence "email continues to be a challenge" baffles me. 

We have seen scandals in recent times that can be put down to poor ICT systems. These range from the Commissioner using a personal email address to the inaccurate record keeping for breathalyser tests. This is simply not good enough in 2017. 

Last June saw the publication of the Modernisation and Renewal Strategy. A five-year plan for injecting new life into An Garda Siochana. It is hoped that this will rectify some of the issues raised in the Garda Inspectorate report. 

In February of this year, it was revealed that 178 Garda stations in Ireland are still unable to access PULSE. 

I have been working to see how the Gardai are progressing with the roll-out of their modernisation strategy for some time. While there are a number of interesting developments on the way, it's hard to get too excited by it when we fall down at some of the most basic hurdles. 

Diversity

We all know the issues that Ireland faces in terms of broadband and mobile coverage. While the Minister for Communications is continuing to resolve these issues, the gap between the 'haves' and the 'have-nots' continues to expand. 

A number of divisions around the country are now using a new control room strategy. Part of this is an initiative called the Electronic RC1. 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. Gardai can, in theory, do this on the go, cutting down on paperwork.

While this makes perfect sense from an operational point of view, I can't help but wonder how that will work when there is poor or no connectivity available in certain parts of the country. 

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.

We will just have to watch it very closely. 

The bottom line here is that this is all happening at a pace that is far too slow. We are playing catch up rather than innovating in any meaningful way. 

As Newstalk Breakfast presenter Paul Williams stated on air earlier this week, police forces in America and the UK have had the technology that we are now aspiring towards for at least fifteen years. 

Can we continue to act shocked at mess-ups and scandals within our force until our technological systems are brought up to where they should be?