‘Legal impediment’ to recording calls to gardaí, warns Commissioner Harris after review of 999 cancellations
1st December 2021
© Getty Garda Commissioner Drew Harris
The Garda Commissioner has said there may be a legal impediment to recording local garda station phone calls following a review into cancelled 999 calls.
Yesterday an interim report was published into the closure of over 5,000 Computed Aided Dispatch (CAD) calls, including over 100 ‘crimes incidents’.
This included the rape of a female and a sexual assault which were among the 114 cases not investigated properly at the time.
The author, Derek Penman, also said he could not validate a claim that no victim suffered serious harm because of a cancelled call.
In some instances callers’ details were wrongly taken down and they could not be recontacted, while legal issues have prevented Mr Penman from listening back to calls.
The expert made 13 recommendations, including that gardaí develop a call-recording strategy for local stations.
While most 999 calls are made to four regional control centres, 25pc had been made to local garda stations with the failure to record those calls described as a “serious vulnerability”.
Speaking to the Policing Authority yesterday at its 100th meeting, Garda Commissioner Drew Harris said they had already begun implementing some of these recommendations and that others were more medium to long term.
Mr Harris said there may be a “legal impediment” to recording calls to garda stations and that they need to balance this with how they provide a local service to communities. He added that they haven’t yet fully considered its conclusion.
In 2017 the Fennelly Commission, which investigated the garda phone recordings scandal, said that a legislative framework was needed for this which also balanced the rights for the caller.
The Garda Commissioner also reiterated his apology from earlier this year when he said that the force did not provide an appropriate service to victims of domestic violence.
Mr Penman’s report found there were 2,910 incidents identified relating to domestic violence sexual assault (DVSA) with victim engagement teams making contact with half of these cases, with follow-ups not required in more than 1,500 incidents.
More than 800 victims were contacted by telephone with 431 face-to-face meetings. This process has concluded with there being “very few” victims who cannot be traced or contacted.
Mr Penman said that many expressed surprise when contacted and said they had no concerns over how their original incident was dealt with.
This, he said, “reflects the nuances” around cancelled incidents where, in many instances, gardaí provided a response or did not attend at the victim’s request.
He recommended that the very high-risk domestic violence incidents be reviewed and that the effectiveness of current protocols and the consistency of the response be assessed.
Mr Penman, a former chief inspector of the Scottish police, also said that there has been good co-operation from gardaí, and that staff working on the review and victim engagement were committed to identifying vulnerability and supporting victims.
He found that training for call dispatchers was extensive and that there was nothing to indicate this was a factor in cancelled incidents “or other workarounds by members”.
The report also finds that it is “not legitimate” to attribute service failures to any technical limitations of the CAD System, with explicit commands making accidental cancellation less likely.
He added that there were still legal issues with listening to recorded calls from control centres and therefore he cannot at this stage confirm if critical procedures were followed.
In September, gardaí informed the authority that 54 incidents had still been cancelled despite safeguards put in place.
The following month they said this figure may be higher after “engagement with a control room member”.
Mr Penman said that an “urgent review” needs to take place to ensure that “effective supervision and robust performance management is in place for all regional control rooms”.
There were also only four formal complaints made by callers who said they did not receive an appropriate service.
Mr Penman said that, given there were almost 1.4 million calls received during the CAD review period, it “seems unlikely” that there were only four calls which resulted in the caller being dissatisfied.
He added that the potential reputational damage of the controversy to the force should not be understated but that the authority “can be assured that the CAD Review and Victim Engagement provides a highly auditable process to identify risk and vulnerability”.
His review was done for the Policing Authority after it emerged that more than 200,000 emergency calls were cancelled in a 22-month period between 2019 and 2022.