Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Wednesday, 10 October 2018
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality
Community Policing and Rural Crime: Discussion (Resumed)
The purpose of our engagement this morning is to resume our consideration of the issues of community policing and rural crime. We are joined this morning for, to my knowledge, only the second time ever by a senior representative of the Police Service of Northern Ireland, PSNI, the last time being in 2006 in, I understand, the context of the Barron report. Therefore, I extend a special welcome to Mr. Alan Todd, assistant chief constable with responsibility for district policing command and rural regions operational support. I hope I have got all of that right. From An Garda Síochána, I welcome Mr. Pat Leahy, assistant commissioner in the Dublin metropolitan region with responsibility for community engagement and public safety. I indicated to Mr. Michael Finn, assistant commissioner for the south-east region, that he almost has his own chair here at the Committee on Justice and Equality. He is welcome back. I understand that he is joined in the Public Gallery by Sergeant Damien Hogan.
The witnesses are welcome. I invite them to make their opening statements in the order in which I introduced them. Before opening up the opportunity to them to address us and for members' questions to follow, I must first remind them of the position regarding privilege. They should please note that they are protected by absolute privilege in respect of the evidence they are to give to the committee. However, if they are directed by the committee to cease giving evidence in respect of a particular matter and they continue to do so, they are entitled thereafter only to a qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. They are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and are asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against any person, persons or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable.
I invite Mr. Todd to make his opening statement.
Mr. Alan Todd:
I thank the committee for its invitation and welcome. As has been mentioned, I head up the operational support department and am based at the PSNI headquarters in Belfast. I have had senior responsibility for the delivery of local policing for more than 12 years as the operational district commander for Newry, Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon and as the chief superintendent and assistant chief constable for local policing across Northern Ireland. I am also the national lead in the UK for police contact management and am a director of the Police ICT Company in London. I have had the privilege of working closely with An Garda Síochána for many years, including with the gentlemen to my right in particular but also the rest of the senior team, on cross-Border investigations, cross-Border operations and cross-Border major event planning. I am a graduate of the Garda Síochána executive development programme, which is run by the Garda with the UCS Smurfit School, and I am the co-author of the cross-Border strategies involving the Garda, PSNI and the respective justice Departments, North and South.
Since early 2018, I have been involved in a PSNI review of local policing across Northern Ireland. This review became necessary because our society, crime and, accordingly, how we delivered policing were changing. While crime in Northern Ireland has reduced significantly over the past ten years, we know from experience that the complexity and type of work faced by policing has become more challenging, for example, the changing nature of public protection work. The increasing vulnerability in society is also having an impact on policing. The PSNI regularly deals with approximately 150 calls for service each day linked to a person with identified mental health issues or a related vulnerability. The growth of cyber-enabled crime has impacted on policing significantly, as has the emergence of more diverse communities and an ageing population. In addition to these changing and growing demands, we have a reducing police budget and fewer police officers and police staff.
These impacts are felt right across policing and, indeed, our partners. I would, however, contend that the greatest impacts are likely to be felt in local policing, where there is something of a triple impact. The first impact is that, in organisations where resources are under pressure, local policing as a resource-intensive area will be required to make savings or reduce numbers as part of that effort. This may be accompanied by the consolidation or centralisation of some functions or resources to achieve economies of scale.
The second impact is that, with the increasing complexity in demand, more specialist skills and roles are being deployed within policing to meet them. This increase in specialism in public protection, cybercrime and interagency working, to name but a few areas, inevitably serves to draw further resources away from local policing.
The third impact is that, with increasing demands and reducing resources, the amount of reactive service provision required to be delivered through local officers and its increasing complexity are putting added pressure on the ability to do proactive and preventative work in local communities and fulfil the associated community engagement roles.
These issues are reflected in recent UK reports published on the matter. The National Effectiveness Review 2016 of Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services on the functions of neighbourhood policing teams, the College of Policing's modernising neighbourhood policing guidelines published this year and the Police Foundation's report, The Future of Neighbourhood Policing, which was also published in 2018, all point to these stresses and strains.
While the choices being made have a sound basis in threat, risk and harm and in policing and keeping people safe, the inevitable reduction in the visibility of local police, perhaps combined with local station closures, has an impact on public confidence in policing and satisfaction in local services, which were previously based on visibility, accessibility and familiarity. It can also be argued that some of these impacts are felt more in rural communities, including cross-Border ones. In recognition of this, the PSNI has had for some years a rural crime lead who oversees the PSNI's rural crime strategy and the related delivery by us and our partners. This sits alongside relationships and practices established under the original cross-Border policing strategy and that the refreshed cross-Border policing strategy seeks to further develop under a specific strand of work, that being, policing with the community in rural areas. This work entails continuing to build on existing practical co-operation to develop a joint Garda Síochána-Police Service of Northern Ireland crime prevention strategy for the Border region, which will assist the joint Garda-PSNI tasking and co-ordination group.
Funding for policing is a political choice. There are pressures and challenges, but there are also opportunities and answers. Policing and service delivery will need to change and choices will have to be made. Communities and other stakeholders need to be part of that discussion and the decision on what that will look like. There are opportunities that, if properly considered and well delivered, can continue to keep people safe and build confidence in policing.
Mr. Pat Leahy:
I thank the committee for the invitation to meet it. As the people who deal with the victims of rural crime, especially burglaries, every day, An Garda Síochána is acutely conscious of the impact this crime has on people, families and communities, both urban and rural, and in particular vulnerable victims. Burglary is not just an economic crime. It is one that can have a devastating impact on people emotionally and personally. That is why we are so determined to tackle it.
In November 2015, the Garda introduced Operation Thor, with which the members are familiar. It was a new approach with a large number of units across a wide range of different areas and disciplines working together to prevent and detect burglaries based on analysis of crime trends and intelligence to target criminal gangs and repeat offenders. It saw us denying criminal gangs the use of the motorway network and increasing patrolling in areas worst affected by burglaries. It has resulted in many of those involved in burglary being arrested and charged. Since November 2015, more than 8,300 arrests have been made, more than 9,500 charges have been preferred, 34,000 searches and 203,771 patrols have been undertaken, and 143,231 checkpoints have been mounted. In addition, we have heavily publicised locally and nationally crime prevention advice through our "Lock Up and Light Up" campaign. All of this activity has seen residential burglaries reduce by 34% and non-residential burglaries down 23% since November 2015.
We have maintained that focus in 2018. This year up to the end of August, residential burglaries are down 17% on the same period last year. However, we will not be complacent, particularly when we are coming to the time of the year when burglaries traditionally increase due to the longer winter nights. We also know that, while we have significantly reduced burglaries, this is no comfort to those who are burglary victims or are in fear of being a victim, particularly elderly people living in isolated areas. In this regard, the winter phase of Operation Thor has started.
There will be increased patrolling and more checkpoints with a particular focus on criminal gangs and repeat offenders. The assistant commissioner for special crime operations is meeting all the detective superintendents from across the country tomorrow to reinforce this message.
I ask members of the public to lock up and light up, particularly in the evenings. During the winter, nearly 40% of burglaries happen between 5 p.m. and 10 p.m. Burglars are most likely to enter homes through the rear door or a window. I ask members of the public to use timer switches to make their homes look occupied, lock their doors and windows and not to keep large amounts of cash in the home. We also ask people to mark their property so that when we recover it, and we recover a large amount of property each year, we can return it to them. It is vital that people report crimes. We can only investigate crimes reported to An Garda Síochána and each and every crime is investigated.
Thefts from farms have fallen nationally by 8% in the past year, but again we are not being complacent. We fully recognise the terrible impact theft from farms can have on the livelihoods of farmers and their families and their sense of security. We are continuing to work with local communities, community groups and farming bodies to reduce farm theft. For example, this was a major focus for the Garda during the recent ploughing championships. We advise members of the farming community to restrict access to their yards, lock gates when not in use and ensure their property is well lit as more farm thefts occur at night than during the day. Farmers should also ensure that machinery, tools and vehicles are secured properly and details such as serial numbers and property markings are recorded and photographed.
In the context of community policing, An Garda Síochána is dedicated to policing with the consent and support of the community. We have a strong connection with the community we serve and maintaining and enhancing that bond is one of our key priorities. We recognise, however, that we need to change in this area. Society is changing at a rapid pace and we have to keep up. Society is demanding a more responsive service and we will meet that demand. With the numbers of gardaí starting to increase, we can put in place measures to deliver a policing service that is better positioned to address the concerns of local communities. We will ensure community policing is the ethos of policing in Ireland.
As identified by the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland, An Garda Síochána, like many police services around the world, has struggled to put in place structures and practices that support a truly community orientated police service. The commission acknowledged the work done and innovation shown by many excellent gardaí in this area but found that their implementation of community policing lacked specific direction. International research has shown that changing this requires more than just a technical fix. It needs restructuring, decentralisation of decision making, greater empowerment of front-line officers and, most critically, having an external focus where we regularly and actively listen and react to the needs of the community. It requires that all our personnel have a strong community orientation.
As the Garda Commissioner has said, the Commission on the Future of Policing provides the Garda Síochána with a pathway in this area and other areas to improve our service in conjunction with our policing partners. In this regard, following extensive research we are developing a new model of community policing based on delivering localised policing services to meet the differing needs of different communities. It will result in our systems and structures being reorganised with the aim of having a real and deep understanding of other communities and what citizens require from a modern police service. It will reinforce that communities and their needs are at the heart of the organisation. The division will co-ordinate all community issues and develop tailored policing responses to communities based on their needs. This approach will be part of the new proof of concept divisional policing model that we will introduce in four divisions, namely, Galway, Mayo, Cork city and Kevin Street, in the first quarter of 2019.
An Garda Síochána is a public service and must provide a quality service that meets the needs of the public. That is the focus of our approach to community policing and policing in general.
I thank the witnesses for appearing before the joint committee. In particular, I thank Assistant Chief Constable Todd for coming down. I will address questions to him first. Most people here will say what they want from the Garda is to see more gardaí on the beat and on the ground in the community. Does the same apply in Northern Ireland? Is that a useful use of resources or do members of the public need to recognise that one cannot have vast numbers of gardaí on the street all of the time? I can understand the reason the public want that, but is that a sensible way for community policing to develop?
Mr. Alan Todd:
It is the same, as the Deputy might imagine, and it is not unique to Ireland. It is pretty much the same picture across the United Kingdom. This debate on the visibility of local policing has been going back and forth since I joined the police service and that was not yesterday. I can remember a chief constable in Bristol saying 25 years ago there will be no more cops on the beat and coming under significant political fire for making that statement. That debate has continued until now in the way the Deputy outlined it.
Local communities take a significant degree of reassurance from seeing their local police. I spoke earlier about visibility as well as accessibility and familiarity, in other words, people see the police, can make contact with them when they want to and they knows who they are. This means people feel linked and engaged with the police. The significant reassurance that comes from that should not be underestimated. Similarly, we talk about police stations and the very fact that bricks and mortar provide confidence for local communities because they have a police station. If a police station is closed or moved, it is generally a source of significant local stress. All of those things have a value for the community.
In light of changing demands and the complexity of the circumstances we face, it is difficult to put one's finger on the cash value of having police officers on patrol providing reassurance. Then we get into the debate as to whether we know the cost of everything but the value of nothing. The honest answer to this question lies betwixt and between the cost and the value. Most emerging models try to bridge that space by having local based teams which are also responsible for a substantial amount of service delivery. Depending on how this approach is modelled, it can work very well because every time a crime or an incident is reported, it presents an opportunity for the local team to engage and be involved in problem solving and building of solutions around that. If one puts too much into that aspect, the teams do not get to engage in policing and instead become response teams engaged in what amounts to fire-fighting, which is a pejorative term in these circumstances. Everybody draws a line and strikes a balance in a different place but finding the right balance is one of the tricks in designing a model. The stress has been there for many years and no one professes to have the wisdom to solve this issue.
On ways to do this differently and sometimes better, the PSNI now has a social media outreach with more than 900,000 followers. In most towns in Northern Ireland more people follow the PSNI on social media platforms than ever meet a police officer. We need to be clever about how we use this platform and publicise it daily. For example, we can show people that while they were at work, we were patrolling their area, making arrests or recovering property. This is a way of showing the value of the police work that takes place through the use of social media channels and outreach. It provides visibility in a wider sense, rather than only seeing officers in uniforms on the streets.
Mr. Alan Todd:
While it is not something we track each day, the technology we have through our tracking systems on vehicles and officers will tell us exactly where our officers are at any hour of the day. That information can be consolidated, although breaking it down into what the actual functions are becomes difficult. Our co-ordination tasking centres have an overview of what we are doing each and every day and how police officers are deployed.
Mr. Alan Todd:
We have something less than half of the police estate we had prior to the Patten commission. That was because the historical model where the distance between police stations was required to be not more than 24 hours' march was unsustainable for a police service whose strength had declined from between 13,000 and 14,000 to fewer than half that number. Another issue is capital costs and whether it is worth spending capital on maintaining buildings that are not in use. If we put officers into buildings, they are not on the street, which takes us back to the issue of visibility. People like the thought of having a local police station but in a fixed resource pool the choice is whether to have police officers sitting in the station or out on the streets? Having them out on the streets is effective in terms of preventing crime, detecting crime and providing reassurance to people. That is a balance that has to be struck as well.
My next questions are for Assistant Commissioner Leahy. Operation Thor has been a significant success for An Garda Síochána and the public. Is the Garda confident it will be able to continue the operation in light of the reduction in overtime?
Mr. Pat Leahy:
Operation Thor will continue. Obviously there are budgetary constraints around it and officers are being asked to put in a business case to mount the operations they want to mount. They have to substantiate the effectiveness of what they are putting in place.
That is what we are asking them to do and they are doing it. Operation Thor will continue.
I wish to comment on what Assistant Chief Constable Todd stated. Technology has made matters easier for criminals but it has also increased the capacity of police officers and the public to fight crime. Does the Garda have a local social media presence? I know the Garda Twitter and Facebook accounts do well but how is that progressing and how does it fit in with community policing?
Mr. Pat Leahy:
It is progressing quite well. I will go back to one of the questions Deputy O'Callaghan asked earlier about community policing and boots on the ground. We have reached a watershed in terms of the report on the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland. I have the report before me. The report, on page 17, states:
There are many excellent gardaí who know their communities well and perform an exemplary service, but it is clear that the community policing system as a whole is under strain. Neither the structure of the police organisation nor its practices support the image it has of itself as a community police service.
That is a fairly strong statement. Basically, it indicates that we are not structured and the practices we are engaged in reflect something other than a community policing service. The report identifies and acknowledges the islands of innovation and the individuals who have put great work into community policing. The commission is effectively asking us to do a complete flip in terms of how we deliver the service. The commission is looking for a paradigm shift. I know this because I have discussed it with members of the commission. I have tried to get inside their heads to find out what exactly they had in mind when they were discussing this. They are looking at something really different. They are saying that we have to change what we do considerably and that we have to bring all instruments of the organisation into alignment with a community policing ethos. They are looking for a paradigm shift. One of the members of the commission stated that the commission got a clarion call from communities to the effect that this is what they want from An Garda Síochána. They want a community policing service that we can really call a community policing service. Our structures and practices need to reflect that. They are saying we need to change our philosophy. If we are to call ourselves a community policing service then our activities behaviours and structures should reflect that. Really, what we are looking at is something altogether different. Internationally, there is a language of community policing that exists but when we start to dismantle it, much of it amounts to tinkering at the edges while the traditional model remains at the core of policing. The commission is asking us to change that substantially.
I will set out what we are bringing to the table. The framework we are developing at the moment is attempting to address this but it will come with significant challenges. Changing the orientation of policing and changing the philosophy towards a community orientation have not really been achieved anywhere. Generally speaking, police forces have add-ons and we have all seen that in operation for years. For example, there may be a handful of really good people and some great initiatives. We have great initiatives throughout the country but the commission is saying there is no national structured approach to community policing. It is almost an add-on to the traditional model. We are being asked to do something significant and it would be important to go through that with the committee at some stage. We need to tease out how we perceive this and what it will look like. We may need a presentation on that at some stage. We are being asked to engage in a paradigm shift and it is important to get that message out.
I am pleased to hear that because community policing is sometimes a motherhood-and-apple-pie concept: everyone is in favour of it but no one really knows what it is. Sometimes it can be vague. It is important to imbed it so that people can know exactly what community policing is. Then, when resources get undermined and reduced, it can stay there and remain unaffected by the vagaries of the Garda budget. Is that the objective of the new model of community policing the Garda is working on at present?
Mr. Pat Leahy:
That is the framework on which we are working. It will represent a complete restructuring of what we have in place. The idea is that we will have a national structure and that we will be able to know from a national position down who owns every area in the country in terms of community policing. The idea is that, as the national lead in this area, I know who the community garda is in west Kerry or Cahersiveen and that we can communicate directly. The idea is that the people in these locations know who their community garda is as well. We are aiming to achieve a situation whereby everyone will know who their community garda is. Although everyone on the commission says that all of those at district level will be community gardaí, there has to be a graduated level of community orientation. This is because detectives are detectives and while they need a community policing ethos, they have to be skilled in other areas too.
We maintain that the entire front line will be geared towards community policing. Training, recruitment, promotion and so on – these are all instruments - need to be aligned to show that is the case. This is a real orientation towards community. We have to take a complete outside-in perspective. We will have to put in place the technology and some sort of customer relationship management system to connect us completely with the community. The idea is that we are in constant communication with them and that we are logging and tracking all the issues that arise. These are non-emergency issues but we need a full problem-solving approach to policing. The idea is that someone owns it and is responsible and accountable for it at street level, team level and as part of a national structure. That is what we are being asked to do and that is what we are working on.
We had a draft ready for some time and we were moving in this direction but, in light of the commission report, there was no point in moving on it. Using the census data and a satellite mapping tool we mapped out the entire country. Every division in the county has been mapped out down to a Central Statistics Office level. We have all the data captured. Many areas have been mapped out to what we term community policing area level. Really, we were waiting for the commission and the new Commissioner to come in and send us on our way.
Mr. Pat Leahy:
We can conclude the mapping process towards early in the first quarter of next year. We will be going to four divisions with this model in the first quarter of 2019. We will see it on the ground. The plan for a complete reorientation will involve a period of three to five years. This is about culture and values and changing the nature of policing. In any event, we will certainly get it started in 2019. We will get it off the ground in the first quarter with the four divisions. Assistant Commissioner Finn is responsible for this aspect of the new divisional model. I suggest that we will certainly have the entire country mapped out for community policing areas early in the first quarter of 2019. We have already started.
My thanks to everyone for coming in. It is interesting for us from several points of view. The similarities North and South are interesting, as are some of the differences. Perhaps we could explore the whole area of co-operation along Border communities, especially given the onset of Brexit and so forth. What level of engagement has been embarked on in terms of rural crime?
I am struck by a particular matter. We are sick of the lads being before the committee. We have them in all the time and we are well used to them but it is an extra privilege to have Mr. Todd before us in order that we might learn from his experience. We often look to the PSNI model post-Patten. We say it was instrumental in shaking up the culture that existed previously. One point made by Mr. Todd is striking. He said that the level of evaluation and analysis has continued into the evolving role of a police service. We are a little behind in the South perhaps but we have begun that process. It has been added to a little by the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland but we are still a little behind the PSNI.
This may be a little eclectic but several points stand out for me. One emerged last week on foot of the presentations we received. It relates to the service changing from a more traditional role in crime, targeting, arrest and detection into being far broader in scope. Mr. Todd referred to 150 calls each day linked to mental health issues. That would have emerged in a project we did on the Prison Service and the number of people who are incarcerated now who traditionally would have been in psychiatric institutions. The criminal justice system has become a hoover for many social problems. How does the PSNI deal with that? What is the interface? I imagine it is a question of the interface between the PSNI and other organisations. In the South, it has certainly been something of a problem in engaging with the likes of Tusla, the HSE and others organisations. How does the PSNI deal with the connection with other state agencies that deal with health and mental health? Mr. Todd referred to specialist services and the requirement for more specialist skills to deal with those areas.
How does the PSNI deal with the emphasis away from crime and detection to being something much broader? We have identified in the South as well, but the PSNI may have been dealing with it a bit longer. The numbers in the Police Service of Northern Ireland have greatly reduced. Obviously there were security elements in that, following the Good Friday Agreement and all of that. The PSNI seems to have managed quite well with lower numbers.
Mr. Alan Todd:
If I miss any pieces, the Deputy will bring me back because there is quite a bit in that. I will deal with the partnership aspect first. I am not being humorous in this. When communities say that they never see the police I could quip that if one pops into accident and emergency departments one will generally find them there. That is really indicative of the crossover between healthcare and criminal justice issues, and the number of people coming into the criminal justice system because of missed opportunities, service gaps or whatever the causation is on the health or education side of the equation.
That has been increasing. In 2007 and 2008 when the security situation was improving markedly, a previous visitor to this committee from the PSNI, Sir Hugh Orde, introduced armed response units as a tentative step towards a routinely unarmed service in an improving situation. I was a commander at the time. It was a significant drain on my resources to establish that new resource. I had some reticence and scepticism about the wisdom of that choice. I am now in charge of those units as part of my portfolio. While they are really busy, they are not busy doing the task for which they were configured. Armed response units were introduced to deal with gun crime, knife crime and people who are dangerous committing crime. They still do that and do so very professionally.
However, more than half their business is now generally in interventions with people self-harming and harming others because of mental health issues. They have a high level of training and provide a high level of non-lethal intervention in situations that might otherwise get out of control for police officers. This was something we never did or were never skilled, trained or equipped for. Ten years on those units are flat-out busy every day of every week at every point on the clock. It is more than an anecdote; a lot of data sits behind that. That is just the societal shift with which policing deals.
Custody areas have been a revolving door for us. We see familiar faces in custody - the same people. When we sit down and talk to those providing healthcare we find they fall into two categories. They are either frequent attenders at accident and emergency departments and other medical services or they are not on the health service's radar at all but actually have significant health needs. That is a healthcare and equality issue.
We have just put staff into the custody suite for the proof of concept two weeks ago having spent two years working on this. It is moving from just having the standard forensic medical officer, police doctor, in the custody suite who might confirm that person is fine and is fit for interview, to a nurse-led healthcare arrangement in custody suites. We are trying to identify why this person is consistently coming in to us; what the healthcare gaps are; and how we can signpost them to healthcare interventions so that they are not rocking up to accident and emergency departments when it gets out of control and they are not getting arrested and brought to the custody suite. We are trying to break that vicious cycle through a criminal justice and health partnership. That has been co-funded by the Northern Ireland Departments of Justice and Health. It has been put into action with 17 new nurses recruited as part of that package from 1 October now completing their training under medical supervision.
We are also in conversation with the ambulance service not only in Northern Ireland, but across the UK. There is co-dependency between ambulance attendants and police attendants at calls. Frequently the ambulance service is looking for police support to calls because of the nature of what it is dealing with. Frequently we are getting there and dealing with ambulance calls because the ambulance service is stretched doing other things as well. Some services and forces in the rest of the United Kingdom are looking at embedding paramedics in police control rooms, and police officers in paramedic control rooms. It leads us to the question of why we do not just slice the bread before we put it into the bag, and have joint police and ambulance control rooms. That has been explored in key areas, such is the crossover and co-dependency in this area of work. That goes back to the changing nature of society and the changing nature of policing that I mentioned in my opening remarks.
There are good experiences and good things happening as we explore that way forward in the wider UK. There has been less traction in Northern Ireland. I point to the lack of a statutory compulsion to do that. The work we are doing with our partners at the moment is done on the basis of getting a coalition of the willing to find a solution for these things and that has been useful. In England and Wales - there is a similar but different situation in Scotland - there is the statutory crime and disorder partnership, which compels statutory agencies to work together to deliver key outcomes for communities and society. There are particular problem areas. Scotland uses single-outcome agreements where the parties and the various statutory agencies sign up to deliver their part of the outcome and their contribution to it. That is a statutory requirement. That is the same in England and Wales.
We attempted to get similar legislation introduced in Northern Ireland in 2011 and 2012. It fell for reasons which are not important today. From talking to those in political parties across the spectrum in Northern Ireland I know they recognise we need it. Particularly at a time of austerity where all parties are under pressure, for politicians and Government to get reassurance that we are doing everything we can in partnership will take some statutory compulsion because it does not happen organically in my experience - certainly not in the way that it needs to give the Government reassurance on behalf of communities and society that we are doing the best we can with it.
That looks to the changing nature of partnership dependencies and what we might do differently in future. I have quoted some of the examples in there. I am happy to expand on that. I think that has touched most of what the Deputy has asked.
It is incredibly interesting - mind-blowing in some ways. The committee could definitely consider recommending statutory compulsion. I have two related questions. Is the experience similar in the South? The scale of that issue strongly emphasises the point we dealt with previously regarding treating drugs as a health issue rather than just a crime issue and the interface there. In reports that have been done in the South in the areas of the review around children being taken into care by gardaí under section 29, the experience was that the garda who dealt with that issue was generally very professional, caring and empathetic. However, the gap arose in their subsequent interconnection with the other social services and agencies. Given the training gardaí get, how could we expect a garda to have to deal with that stuff? If we are talking about moving the police service in that direction, which is happening anyway, where is the specialist training for dealing with all that stuff that really requires medical expertise? Would the figures in the South be as dramatic as in the North? What specialist and interagency approach applies there?
Mr. Pat Leahy:
I absolutely agree that is a factor of policing now. We are all dealing with that at the moment. The level of mental health issues and trauma we are dealing with in the people with whom we engage is becoming really topical. It was not part of discourse in policing five or ten years ago but it is very much part of it now.
The Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, appeared before the committee earlier. Members will be aware that he launched the evaluation of the joint agency response to crime, JARC, in recent weeks. That has been very successful. It brings An Garda Síochána, the Probation Service, the Prison service and other agencies together focusing on a certain cohort of criminal activity and the people who are involved in it. That is all about trying to engineer them out of the criminal justice system and bringing about interventions that would not normally have been available to the police.
The central protective services bureau has been operational for quite a while and the divisional model is bringing on the other ones. They will be in all divisions before too long. All of that acknowledges that we are not just dealing with criminals; people have a background. The majority of people who end up in prisons have suffered trauma in childhood and we have never been part of a discourse on that. However, that is changing substantially now.
I will give an example of one of those outreach programmes in Dublin city at the moment between An Garda Síochána, the Ana Liffey Drug Project, Dublin City Council and others, where they are going out and looking for these hard to reach people who are not being provided with the full intervention spectrum to address their issues because drugs, homelessness and trauma are all wrapped up in the same individual.
They are going out and finding people in laneways and doorways. They are trying to create a relationship with them to find out what interventions are being made for them. Where gaps are found, they try to fast-track them into treatment and through the housing system which, as members are aware, is very difficult. That has been ongoing for quite a while. I believe there are 50 people in the city who are part of the programme. Yes, it is becoming very much part of the lexicon in policing.
I shall give the committee a flavour of the training provided or acquired for community police officers which based on the model that is in place. Every garda who is encountered on the street, certainly those in uniform, should have received this training as we move into the future. It starts with ethos, ethics and human rights, decision-making, problem identification, problem solving and vulnerable and trauma impact identification. This is a new discourse and dialogue in policing. The training also includes harm prevention, intervention strategies, multi-ethnicity collaboration, victim support, stakeholder analysis and engagement, data management, diversity and integration, hate crime and community roles and responsibilities. There is also community interaction with minorities and migrants, age positive actions and mental and physical health. There is a list of aspects that need to be engineered into the police training programme. This is included in the framework we are presenting to the Garda Commissioner. It has been acknowledged that it is part and parcel of policing. The discourse on it has really only come to the fore in the last couple of years. It is also absolutely reflective of what Mr. Todd is describing.
Mr. Michael Finn:
I share what has been said. That type of relationship is being developed organically on the ground between gardaí, the HSE and those who deal with homeless communities. While we have worked together in the past, we just did not have the formal structure in place. The joint policing committees deal with us and the local authorities. I believe the relationship has developed organically, but there is a need to take it to the next level. It is working from Belfast to Dublin and Cork down to the south east.
The nature and location of policing are also issues that came up. Mr. Finn has referred to the closure of Garda stations. It is an issue we also discussed with Deputy Jim O'Callaghan. How do people feel about visibility in the changed world? The figures from the PSNI for the numbers of social media followers are striking - 900,000 is a lot. What are the Garda figures in that regard? As I am brutal at using social media, I do not know. On what social media sites does An Garda Síochána engage? Is there a team in place? It is definitely the way a lot of people follow stuff. What sites do An Garda Síochána use? Does it use Facebook, Twitter or Instagram? How many followers does the organisation have?
Do the figures beat that of the PSNI because its figure is really good? I do not mean it in a derogatory way, but even the fact that Mr. Todd was conscious of the numbers of followers means that social media are treated seriously.
Mr. Michael Finn:
It actually does. The traffic page is excellent. It is one of the leading pages. On Facebook we have 450,000 followers and nearly 500,000 on Twitter. Between the two, we are close to having one million followers on social media. An Garda Síochána has a pretty good footprint, not just nationally but also locally. For example, in counties Wexford, Waterford and Kilkenny the Garda engages with local communities and sends messages on Facebook on what is happening locally. While they do follow the national picture, communities like to know what is happening in their local areas - you cannot beat local news. That is the forum in which we get news out to the local community.
Mr. Alan Todd:
The numbers are impressive, but there are bloggers in the United States of America, for instance, who have 3.5 million followers. It is really a case of what someone does with the medium and adds value. It is a cultural challenge and has been for us. Pretty much every local neighbourhood team has more followers on social media than the numbers who buy the local newspaper. That is a fact. People are more likely, therefore, to get their news and information from a policing perspective through social media than through their local newspaper. Local newspapers have been trending off, while we have been trending upwards. That is generally the case in any town across Northern Ireland; there are more people who read our social media feeds than the local newspaper. To make it work, social media are very much in the moment, relevant and sometimes can be a little edgy. That is the cultural challenge, something on which we are still working. The local garda or police officer in the town has to be able to access a social media device and post about stuff that is happening in the area, without centralised control. That does bring risks. I do not need to tell politicians about what happens when one gets it wrong on social media. It is no different for those involved in policing. You have to trust your people and allow them to do it, accept that they are going to make mistakes from time to time and that you are going to have to apologise when they do. That is the only way to make it fast, interesting and engaging. Otherwise there will be all of the people who follow the organisation but do not really engage with it. While we conduct national campaigns from the centre through our feeds, most of the interaction locally is about day-to-day stuff such as a lost dog, a missing person, a stolen car or a broken window, with the local team and local people engaging in real time. This is decentralising. Sir Hugh Orde would have said his model and ethos to enable community policing was maximum devolvement of authority within a corporate framework. We keep revisiting the corporate framework, but we have never, ever, moved away from empowering local people to do things locally. Social media make this even more important.
Reference was made to station closures. When I was asked about how we took the partnership forward, I spoke about the statutory framework. In the past 12 to 18 months we have been working with significant success on a concern hub. It started in Derry-Londonderry. It is a local multi-agency hub to where the police and partners can take individuals of concern, high demand or high need users, whichever way they come to attention, and people sit around the table and ask: "How do we fix this?" One then realises that while the police has eight pieces of information on the individual, the education people have three pieces, the housing people have four and the health people another five. When all of the information is put in the one place, solutions start to appear. We now have five hubs running. We have not gone right across the province because currently we are reviewing policing, but I believe we should be actively considering what the structure should look like at a local level. If we are to have local policing, local service delivery and local problem solving, we need a local partnership structure through which they can be delivered. It needs to be empowered by the partner agencies. Experience shows that this is effective and usually cost efficient. We have anecdotal examples from the centres that show that people who used to contact the agencies around 50 or 60 times a year about a range of issues are now finding that their problems have been solved and that they do not have to contact us anymore. There is a return on investment in that type of approach.
I see the relevance of this approach to the conversation. As Assistant Commissioner Leahy said, we need to find a way. If we can devolve authority to that level and our authority as a collective to partnerships and have a local partnership management structure, in which the police will provide a service for every element and do the policing piece in collaboration with partners around the table, it will be much more resource effective and an effective way to do business. That is the challenge, not only in our own structures but also in how we dovetail them to make them work collaboratively and in unison with other partners. The community could then feed its needs into that space. The accountability structures can be local. We have police and community safety partnerships that oversee and hold local commanders accountable for performance or other partners that are involved. It needs to expand into the service delivery space. We have partnership service delivery and decision-making at the centre of the organisation - as an enabler - to devolve decision-making to that level. In the first instance, in the Patten report, the ethos within our corporate framework was maximum devolvement.
That is some really good information. My attitude to social media is probably more like that of An Garda Síochána as I am a little behind on them. I am not putting myself on the same level, but An Garda Síochána needs to adopt that approach to social media and view them as the way to get its message out. It needs to make that leap. I have not made it myself, but I hear what Mr. Todd is saying.
I turn to the issue of rural crime in the South and the issues that have been highlighted with the fleet and vehicles, especially where a garda is not operating from a station. He or she is covering a lot of ground. How much of an issue is the lack of sufficient staff who are capable of driving vehicles and the lack of quality vehicles?
The other issue I would like to raise in the context of rural crime is Brexit. What level of dialogue and co-operation has been evident on both sides of the Border? What is the position with regard to all of that? Is it envisaged that it will be a problem? Are the witnesses happy enough that it will be all right, and that Brexit will not make a difference? What is being done in this respect?
Mr. Michael Finn:
We have come a long way with our fleet. The issues we had coming out of the recession have been cured. When I spoke to our fleet manager yesterday, he told me he had €5 million to spend last year. I saw this morning that he got in 20 new vehicles overnight. Our fleet has certainly come a long way. I do not think there is an acute shortage of vehicles across the country. Any policeman will say that his vehicle is his primary tool. If we keep our fleet up to date, we can be mobile and get out into the community, where people want to see us on a day-to-day basis. We have moved a long way in respect of our fleet. That has been very positive.
Mr. Michael Finn:
We have an issue with the training of staff. It is grand to train them up to a basic level so that they can drive a patrol car out in the community. There is an issue with the use of vehicles for pursuit. One of my colleagues spoke at a Policing Authority meeting last week about the challenges that are being faced in this regard. We are looking at outsourcing that whole role as much as we can. This will free up gardaí to do high-end training. We could outsource the roadcraft part of that training to private companies, but it is obvious that gardaí are needed for the high-end training up to pursuit level. We are looking at changing the mix and getting more people trained so that gardaí who come out of Templemore can drive Garda cars. The cars are there for them. The big challenge for us is to provide the requisite level of visibility in communities.
Mr. Michael Finn:
As a result of the deficit in personnel, there has been a push to get gardaí through Templemore. The Garda College is full right now. There are 800 gardaí coming out of it every year. I suppose that is putting pressure on the other side of Templemore, which needs to be able to deliver all the courses. We are working to try to outsource certain matters to see if we can strike a balance while providing the type of training that is needed.
The Deputy also asked about cross-Border issues. During my time in the northern region, there was an element of cross-Border co-operation on the ground. Officers were sharing information and intelligence. There was great co-operation. I do not know whether Mr. Todd would like to share the perspective from his side. I would say it was very positive from the Garda side. In two weeks time, we will have our next strategic cross-Border conference, at which officers from the PSNI and the Garda along the Border will meet to discuss the issue.
Have there been any changes in anticipation of Brexit? I know this is difficult. Who knows what will happen? We have to wait and see. Is there some level of anticipation? Are extra meetings taking place?
Mr. Michael Finn:
That has been the central focus of all our cross-Border meetings. We all know what could happen. We are planning for it. We are looking at what the implications of that would be for us in areas like resources, training and infrastructure. That is one of the central areas we are focusing on in our cross-Border meetings.
Mr. Pat Leahy:
I think everyone is being careful in what they can say about the planning cycle associated with Brexit at the moment. We are being mature about what is required in this context. We are all waiting with bated breath to see where this takes us. We are not sitting back and doing nothing. Of course we are planning. As Mr. Todd said earlier, the relationship between the Garda and the PSNI is very different now from what it was some years ago. We have worked together on cross-Border operations. It is seamless and it remains seamless. We are in a very different place now compared to the past. That is for sure. Of course we are preparing for Brexit.
I would like to raise the issue of rural crime. I do not want people in rural communities to think they are more exposed than others to crime. The facts are very different. One is far more likely to be the subject of a burglary in an urban setting than in a rural setting. The difference is quite large. We focus on burglary because it is so intrusive and has such an emotional effect on people. The rate of burglary in Dublin is approximately 11.6 per 100,000 households. That figure is between 3.9 and 8.5 in more rural areas. The difference is significant. I do not want rural dwellers to be sitting back in fear of crime to a greater extent than they should be. While I do not want to underestimate the effect that crime has on people, we need to be straight when we are discussing crime.
It is really important that Mr. Leahy has said that. I do not want in any way to undermine the need for vigilance when I say that the prevalence of crime is definitely overhyped. The sensationalism associated with the reporting of crime is incredibly unhelpful in all situations. It is particularly unhelpful in the case of rural crime.
Mr. Pat Leahy:
Likewise, I do not want to downplay the effects of crime in any way. I will mention a couple of aspects of this issue that are important. Thefts from farms have been in the limelight recently. Such crimes have decreased by 8% in the past year. There has been a reduction of 9% in the value of objects stolen from farms. Animal theft has decreased by 3%. There has been a reduction of 5% in the number of tools being stolen. The number of incidents in which farming equipment has been stolen has decreased by 18%. There has been a 39% reduction in the value of the farming equipment that has been stolen. There is good news. We absolutely accept that incidents are taking place. We hear about them every other day. We do not want to frighten people. The number of vehicles being stolen from farms has decreased by 13% in the past 12 months. There is some good news. Operation Thor has had a significant effect on all of this. This issue has national, regional and divisional aspects. We are looking at the travelling criminals about whom we have been talking for many years. We have had quite substantial successes in this regard. It is important to say that there is some good news in this space so that people are not sitting at home in fear of crime.
I would like to make two brief final points. Some very good ideas have been set out. They are quite different. How has dealing with the abuse of animals in rural areas been elevated? Many people in the community take this issue very seriously. There is probably a perception that our law is not sufficiently severe in how it deals with people who abuse and mistreat animals. Maybe there is not enough awareness of this issue, certainly in the South. It is not treated with enough importance for the Garda to deal with it properly. I ask the witnesses to comment on that. What has been the experience of the PSNI?
The other matter I would like to raise is at the other end of the spectrum. The issue of hate crimes has been touched on. New communities and minority groups are a huge part of the new Ireland, North and South. How do the members of the police services in both areas who deal with our new minority communities elevate or reflect these issues to ensure they are taken sufficiently seriously?
Mr. Michael Finn:
I will deal with some of the rural issues that have been raised, such as the treatment of animals and the difficulties we have encountered in the past. Sometimes there is a breakdown in communication between the various organisations. Maybe they do not fully understand which of them should be taking the lead in what is happening. We are improving and communication is taking place. Perhaps it is the case that we do not deal with these issues until they surface. I know from some of the exchanges we have had that communications has been a problem in the past. I think we are enhancing it and getting the message out to our own people that we need to take it seriously. We need to work with the other agencies. It is only when we work in that way that we can get really successful outcomes. We are working closely with various organisations across the country, including the ISPCA. It is important that such relationships are fostered because they are the key to achieving successful outcomes. Regardless of whether the social problems we are dealing with involve human beings or animals, my perspective is that the most effective way of achieving success is to work with agencies. I am not sure whether Mr. Todd has had any difficulties in this area. I know from my time working in the northern region that there are many cross-Border issues, for example involving cattle smuggling. I found that there was a great relationship between the PSNI and the Garda as they sought to make sure investigations were carried out.
Mr. Alan Todd:
We have been criticised for the degree of priority we afford to animal cruelty offences.
It is not on any of the local policing plans as a core policing priority, but it matters to local communities so, when it surfaces, we work with animal protection agencies and other agencies. As part of the rural crime strategy, there are nominated wildlife liaison officers and animal cruelty liaison officers who have roles around the different districts and they maintain the local and structural content around that. Having those points of contact is part of the rural crime strategy. They play a variety of roles at different levels within the local districts. It has not been a huge issue, but we have had criticism about it.
Mr. Alan Todd:
There have been a number of incidents that have occurred in different places at different times for different reasons. It tends to be new communities arriving in an area and an adverse reaction from some of the local community. Sometimes that plays out in hate incidents and hate crimes, properties being attacked and people being harassed, abused and insulted. That pops up on a number of different fronts. My colleague, Assistant Chief Constable Mark Hamilton, is a UK leader on hate crime. We think the PSNI is proficient at that but the solutions lie locally. The strategies and plans can be in place and support can be brought, but it has to be done through local policing solutions. It is transient in nature. There are different communities in different places at different times because of employment factors and factories and food production. With freedom of movement, people move to places where there are opportunities. As is the case in the South, what once were new communities are now mainstream and those people are starting to put down roots as second or third generations in the schools. There are schools in Northern Ireland that would be closed but for the kids from new communities.
That is reflected in the police service. It is an almost daily occurrence where someone in the service is looking for a police officer who can speak one of a number of languages to assist an investigation or inquiry or assist the public. Problems do not exist between the resident community, the home community and new community. Tensions can be brought from off these shores to these shores with family disputes or ethnic disputes that have their roots in other parts of Europe. Those tensions and stresses do not disappear because these people are in a new environment.
Mr. Pat Leahy:
I will focus on the hate crime aspect. As the committee knows, there is no offence of hate crime in this jurisdiction at the moment and the committee might consider that. Our definition of hate crime comes from the Macpherson report about racism and discrimination. While An Garda Síochána extrapolates the elements of that and has them on its system in terms of offences, it is not as efficient as it should be. We must accept that hate crimes are occurring in this jurisdiction that we are not capturing them. Everyone will accept that. To capture them, we are working closely with other agencies to define a potential offence of hate crime and then it will be put forward for consideration. We need to move into that space and we are not there yet, but it is something that must be considered.
The difficulty in following Deputy Daly is she has asked all the good questions. I was going to touch on the issues of Brexit and new communities. Brexit is an issue we all feel compelled to ask about because of the uncertainty of it, but equally I understand it is difficult for the witnesses to answer, given the circumstances. It is unfair to plan for Brexit when no one knows the detail or content of it. Are there still additional, strategic plans for the cross-Border policing of the nature that exists already and to build on those? Are there two-year, five-year and ten-year plans regarding existing work and how that work can be built upon regardless of what happens with the fallout of Brexit?
Will Assistant Chief Constable Todd address the significance of the PSNI experience of community policing and engagement with restorative justice projects on the ground locally and what impact they make? I also ask about the localised accountability structures outside policing and community safety partnerships, PCSPs, and statutory bodies. The assistant chief constable would acknowledge that many of the positive examples of good practice he points to are often initiated by communities as opposed to the PSNI or the statutory bodies. What is the significance of that? I will have one or two additional questions.
Mr. Alan Todd:
Starting with the Brexit element, I have attended a range of meetings on the topic in Belfast, Dublin and elsewhere. It is difficult to plan for something when we do not know what it is. Even getting central government to define the parameters or working assumptions has not been straightforward because of the negotiation position and changing situation. That is understandable but it does not make it any easier for people like me and my colleagues to plan for it.
It would be fair to summarise what the PSNI has done to date as looking at the range of cross-Border work it currently does and has done over recent times, looking at which of those pieces of work rely on European instruments, legislation or regulations, and trying to work out, if those were lost, how to maintain the current position. European arrest warrants allow us to bring people from North to South and South to North for offences. That is well practised and routine. What would be the position if there were no European arrest warrants?
Information sharing is the lifeblood of North-South, UK-wide and Europe-wide operations. That information sharing, across a range of disciplines, is lifeblood to many policing operations. Which parts of that and which access to those systems requires European regulation, and what would be needed if we did not have them? The PSNI is taking account of all those and telling the Department of Justice and other partners that those are where the gaps will be and those need to be filled. That forms the basis for that plan.
There are things that we have control over, like meetings, face-to-face exchanges, secondments from North to South and South to North, the building and maintaining of relationships across the Border, and the joint task force on organised crime. Those will continue as structures. The PSNI continues to look behind the scenes at what bits of that might fall off, so to speak, in a Brexit scenario and how to make sure they do not fall off, or there is something else in their place to ensure we lose nothing.
A previous chief constable got into political hot water by saying the Border is just a line on a map. I know what he meant, and it was not the way it was heard, but the Border does have challenges for law enforcement and other agencies and we have learned how to work with that. Having got to that space, we need not to lose it. That is how I would sum up the work on Brexit to date.
The longer piece of two-year, five-year and ten-year plans has to come when we know what we are dealing with and we have a stronger sense of what is available to us, what we want in addition, and how that is taken forward. That piece of work will have to wait.
How damaging would the appearance of any infrastructure or mechanics on the Border be to the positive work that has taken place over the past ten to 15 years? Is there concern and preparation for that? We have continually heard that no one wants to see that, but it is a potential outcome. How much would that undermine Mr. Todd's experience of cross-Border community policing, whether dealing with communities or dealing with issues of rural crime and how that has a unique impact along the Border?
Mr. Alan Todd:
We are still in an unfortunate situation in Northern Ireland because there are what is described by others as the continued existence of micro-organisations that seek to use violence against police officers and the wider public.
As a police service, clearly we are concerned by anything that would become a focus which such people could use to try to harness discontent to provide some sort of quasi-legitimacy for their actions. That is a concern for policing, as the Chief Constable has stated on numerous occasions in public forums.
In terms of today's discussion and the impact on community policing, our ethos regarding policing in the community sits uncomfortably with the notion that local community teams would seek to enforce or be part of a border structure that did not have the agreement, approval or acquiescence of local communities. One must query how local policing would function in such situations and in terms of general policing alongside other agencies along whatever border there may be. That is of concern from a local policing and community legitimacy standpoint.
That is the more pertinent issue, having regard to Mr. Todd’s experience.
On armed response, did Mr. Todd state in response to Deputy Clare Daly that over 50% of incidents dealt with by armed response units involve people who may have poor mental health or other circumstances which they were not set up to deal with?
Mr. Alan Todd:
Yes. That is not an exaggeration based on one particularly bad day but is, rather, a recurrent theme. Most of those interventions involve people threatening self-harm, suicide or to harm family members, which may be caused by mental health issues, drug or substance abuse or a combination thereof. The armed response units were not originally set up to deal with such situations but they now do so and are highly trained for it. It is a more comprehensive response by our organisation for those units to take responsibility for such situations because they have far more training and have access to more equipment and less-than-lethal options to deploy in such situations than ordinary police officers. If such resources were not available, there would be an inevitable increase in tragic outcomes in such situations.
I presume the vast bulk of such interventions are requested by police at a community level and that these situations are more common in so-called socio-economically deprived or disadvantaged areas. There is a bigger philosophical question in that regard to which Deputy Daly and I would probably allude. I am trying to get a better understanding of the positive interventionist nature of such deployments in terms of supporting people and, ultimately, keeping them safe. I also wish to understand how the individuals involved in these incidents are dealt with in terms of the follow-up process. The person may present a danger but there may be surrounding circumstances which need to be addressed. Obviously, there is a policing aspect to such situations but what are the follow-up and wrap-around services available to persons identified as vulnerable or in a poor state of mental health?
Mr. Alan Todd:
I will take the Senator’s questions in order. Undoubtedly, demand levels are higher in urban centres but that is as much due to higher population density as deprivation. For instance, suicide knows no barriers to the door of any home, regardless of class or creed. We encounter incidents across the same broad spectrum. Higher population numbers in urban centres drive demand for armed response units but we encounter such situations across the country. Providing a specialised service of that sort at speed across a wide area is a challenge for us. It is not clear that such situations are more likely to occur in deprived areas, although clearly other health indicators and trends point in that direction, so it is certainly a factor. However, such situations can occur at anybody’s door and we encounter demand across the country.
The Senator also asked about----
Mr. Alan Todd:
Yes. The follow-up services are not as good as they ought to be, although others would argue differently. I will relate an anecdote which outlines our frustration in that regard. We were criticised by a recent report of the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland regarding a person who tragically ended his or her life by jumping into the river in Belfast. Shortcomings of ours relating to the incident were identified and we have accepted the report and recommendations. However, we are a little uncomfortable that that was the third police interaction with the individual over a three-day period. On the first occasion, police took the individual off the street and to hospital for medical care. The person was released, again encountered by the police and taken back to hospital for further medical care but was again released. The person then tragically took his own life. Our follow-up in that incident was not good. However, operational officers would say that if the system worked better, such things would not happen. Our frustration does not stem from being criticised but, rather, that in spite of our best efforts and interventions and taking the person to a place of care, he ultimately took his own life. We are not frustrated that we were criticised - that comes our way when we do not get it right.
Mr. Alan Todd:
Of course. That is the nature of things. Reports take time to come out. If there are obvious lessons, we learn from and implement them. However, there is a significant number of missing persons per year. There are links between some of those cases and children in care, and there is a massive amount of work to be done and risk involved. Child sex exploitation may also form a part of some of those situations and must be dealt with. That illustrates the complexity of policing.
As I stated in my opening, an investigation used to involve a police officer meeting the person, taking notes, speaking to a few other people and writing a report but now involves seizing CCTV and examining mobile devices. It takes six times longer to conduct a proper investigation than it used to and requires far more skill and technology. That is the nature and complexity of our business. Missing persons and other matters have added to the volume of work with which we must deal.
Contact management is the shop window of local policing. Most people lift the phone when they wish to talk to the police and access services. However, the service they get may depend on what service is available. Contact management centres and our online offering are an increasing part of our business which help us balance some of the stresses discussed earlier. One can discern the changing nature of issues after 4 p.m. on a Friday when other agencies finish work for the weekend. On wrap-around services, not alone is there no handover wrap-around but some support services are not available at weekends. The police continues to be the emergency service of last resort even when the situations to be dealt with are not a core part of our business. The situation is worsened by the resource constraints experienced by our partners.
Mr. Pat Leahy:
I thank the Chairman. I will be brief. It is important to look at the entirety of what the police do in regard to such circumstances. The situation described by Mr. Todd is probably common to all police services, including our own. International research which is applicable to us clearly indicates that police forces spend between 10% and 20% of their time actingin extremis and 80% dealing with non-police issues. One of the core arguments for community orientation is that 80% of the force's time is not spent dealing with these issues, so we should try to engineer them out of the system or provide some sort of intervention as a police service rather than waiting for things to happen, which is what we are currently doing. It is very important that we know what we are talking about in terms of the volume described by Mr. Todd and what we do with the rest of our time because that will underpin the discourse on community policing and how we should change in that regard.
Mr. Alan Todd:
There has been a journey with community-based restorative justice. The police service had mixed views on it at the start. That was partly due to the possibly inaccurate perception that some former combatants were becoming involved in low-level community policing. That was dealt with by accreditation, training and confidence building around the process. The policing view is that it seems to work and has high degrees of community acceptance. If community policing is working and has community engagement, approval and acceptance, it would be almost churlish for policing not to take advantage of that. It is an opportunity to utilise an important element of the spectrum of responses to combating crime. If we were to continue the current practice involving partnership hubs, service providers and commissioned services under a partnership management structure, it would sit very neatly with what is happening in terms of the partnership structures to reduce offending which operate between ourselves, the probation service, the Youth Justice Agency and others. Community restorative justice is part of that spectrum and contributes to decreasing the rates of prolific offenders.
Community-based restorative justice has travelled a journey. That model fits in with the parts of the Fresh Start agreement in Northern Ireland around community co-design of solutions for community problems. It sits very much in that space.
Mr. Pat Leahy:
The Garda delivers it but other organisations are also involved. When we were caught up in tackling a feud in the north inner city, the Garda and others provided assistance in upskilling local communities in restorative practice approaches. We have people who are very well skilled in that area, and the approach has the potential to deliver. We attempted to use it on a community-wide scale but it has significant challenges, particularly in the circumstance in which found ourselves in the north inner city, which was very much live and connected, as everyone concerned was living in close proximity. It was not as effective as it could have been but it was applied by others to some of the younger members of the community and we assisted in that regard. It was very positive. Restorative justice needs to be expanded in policing and among members of An Garda Síochána. The outcome of restorative practice across the world has generally been positive.
I do not believe we will be able to do it for this report but given the level of detail and some of the enthusiasm around the table, there may be merit in engaging with our visitors down the line and seeing some of these models at work. It would be beneficial for us to get a sense of the nature of community policing along the Border, taking account of the virtual non-existence of a border now, the impact of that and the way that works across the board. I put that proposal to the Chairman for consideration later in the year or whenever time becomes available.
I thank the witnesses for their engagement, which has been very interesting. It highlights how incredibly challenging all of this is. In terms of the local partnership structure, a major issue for PSNI members is the job of working positively with the community. Assistant Chief Constable Todd mentioned service gaps several times. Children are falling through the cracks because of service gaps and children and some adults find it hard reach a good space because of them. We are highly conscious of that in the South also. For example, in County Wexford mental health services are only open for those who need to access them between the hours of 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., from Monday to Friday. It must be a nightmare providing for those who need those services outside those core hours. If that falls on the plate of the Garda or the police force, as it does much of the time, surely there must be a greater need for the education of policing personnel to deal with these very complex and difficult areas. Is Assistant Chief Constable Todd satisfied that the education of his members is of a sufficient standard to manage these difficult challenges?
Mr. Alan Todd:
I believe training always struggles to keep up with the changing demand. There is a nervousness in policing, and perhaps in other agencies also, about training our people to fill a space that is not ours to fill. That is where the partnership conversation comes in to play.
Police forces, not only the force in Northern Ireland but also An Garda Síochána and all the other organisations with which I have worked, are can-do organisations. If one gives them a problem, they will fix it. That is in our DNA. It means that when these problems are thrown at us after 4 p.m. on a Friday through to 10 a.m. on Monday, we will do our level best and apply ourselves to the job of keeping people safe and doing all those things one would expect the police to do. If we continue to train our people in that space, it will be at the cost of something else. That is a conversation for the partnerships and the communities on the role of policing and the way it is intended to address this issue as we go forward. More gaps will develop and the police force can no longer be expected to assume responsibility for managing this space.
There will be core things we need to do, and these have changed over time. Members receive much more training in suicide awareness and suicide intervention and negotiation and problem solving. That has changed over time as well. There is much more nuanced use of policing powers in problem solving. We need the partnership structure to come together in a co-ordinated and collaborative way to bring solutions, rather than having us continue to train more of a declining number of officers using a smaller budget to do things that it is not part of our role to deliver in the first instance.
We need to have a training needs analysis to identify the things that police officers can reasonably be expected to do, as part of their core policing role on a day-to-day basis. There are then specialist roles on top of that. The road becomes never-ending once we accept that we will be the emergency service of last resort. To illustrate this point, a national recommendation was made to me, as the UK national lead for contact management, that we train all police call handlers in the UK in first aid because a call handler in a police centre, in an attempt to do the right thing, gave poor first aid advice to a person who suffered additional injury as a result of that advice. The recommendation was to train every contact management operative and call handler in the UK in first aid. That is the role of the ambulance service. It is a question of training our members to recognise what is needed and transfer the call. If we try to train all officer in everything, we will never succeed. Rather than managing risk, as we may believe, we will probably create risk because we are taking money and resources from somewhere else.
Mr. Alan Todd:
Young police officers today have my absolute admiration given the spectrum of issues they face daily. The world is much more complicated, complex and difficult to police than it was when I joined the police some years ago. I have great admiration for how they do it. They have very good skill sets. That is just the way it is.
Mr. Alan Todd:
As I said in my introductory note, funding for policing is a political choice. I point to the Patten report which, in more peaceful circumstances than exist now in Northern Ireland, recommended a policing service of 7,500 officers. We refined that in 2013-14 to a figure of 7,000. As of today, in terms of full-time equivalents, we have just shy of 6,600 members. By any stretch, we are below the number required. That has not been driven by our choice but by the political choice to reduce funding for policing. Our police staff side has been reduced as well. Those involved in police staff roles perform a large number of support roles in contact management centres, forensic science, human resources departments, finance departments and all the other roles that make an organisation work and without which we could not function.
We have reduced those across the board. One can see the stress in the system. Over the past three years, we have gone from 84 neighbourhood policing teams to 34. We have targeted those teams in areas of high deprivation. That relates to the conversation we had earlier about engagement and making sure that those people do not fall into the clutches of paramilitarism in those areas. Going from 84 to 34 was a big cut in neighbourhood policing teams. We moved some of those functions into local policing teams, but that model is not sustainable with our current numbers because we keep taking numbers out of it for all the reasons I outlined and it has that triple impact on local policing. The model is creaking and that is why it is not working. Some of that is down to numbers. The Chief Constable, the senior team and I are charged with delivering the best service we can in the most effective and efficient way with what we have but I do not think anyone on my senior team would say we are not struggling for resources.
Mr. Todd spoke about visibility and the importance of bricks and mortar and that there is something physical which gives comfort to the community. He told us that half the PSNI police stations have closed. Does he think that some of the police stations should be opened or that it is okay the way it is?
Mr. Alan Todd:
Straight down the middle, I have been responsible for closing a range of police stations as assistant chief constable for the areas in which they were. It was done based on an effectiveness and efficiency argument. If I say it is an emotional response, it sounds pejorative, but I understand the confidence that people get from bricks and mortar. In every station we closed, we did a fine analysis over time of the members of the public who were using the police station. On some days, it was none at all and on a busy day, it was three or four. Things like that were generally not core functions and could easily be done on the phone, online or through some other way of offering that service. The public did not lose out on a service but on the comfort that comes from having a local police stations and the sense that there are many police in there to come to their aid if needed, which was never the case, but that is where the sense of security comes from.
I have been a decision-maker and have gone to the Northern Ireland Policing Board with recommendations to close and sell off a range of police stations across Northern Ireland based on very sound data. I think it is the right thing to do when faced with the challenges that face us as an organisation. Otherwise I would not have recommended it. I still understand the confidence local communities have from having them but I could not sit here today and put in front of anyone a business case to build more that would withstand scrutiny.
I thank Mr. Todd. Bringing some of the same issues South, when Dr. Geoffrey Shannon was here, he spoke very well of how gardaí were dealing with troubled kids when called to a scene, despite that there was a lack of training and education for the gardaí in dealing with problems that they were traditionally not expected to deal with as much as they are now. Do the witnesses think more training and education is required for Garda members because of these new community-based challenges, particularly relating to mental health?
Mr. Michael Finn:
It is a challenge for us. We did well in the past because we attracted the right type of people to the organisation who had the skills to deal with it, even though they might not have been formally trained to the level that Dr. Shannon would like us to be. We came out well because we engage with the public, have a connection with the community and that empathy. It stood to us. We would certainly like to see more training in that regard.
Dealing with the type of issues we are talking about is very labour intensive and, as the Deputy said, it invariably happens at weekends when not only are the support services maybe not even there but we are at a time where we are at peak demands from a policing perspective. It is a big challenge for us to provide the level of service that we would like to give to policing when so much of our time is taken up by what I would not describe as core policing demands but as matters that fall to the police to deal with, especially at weekends when we are stretched and have the least resources to help us. It is a challenge for us. Mr. Leahy might want to add to that from the Dublin metropolitan region perspective.
Mr. Pat Leahy:
There is not a whole lot to add. The Deputy is referring to section 12, where a garda is empowered to act if a child is at risk. He is right that Dr. Shannon, when he came in, said that gardaí acted very professionally in this role. Much of that came from on-the-job training and experience that people picked up along the way from other members. With regard to full-on training, gardaí would have been trained on the Act itself and understanding what it meant, but with regard getting into the mindset and going in to do an evaluation in a home situation to determine whether a person is at risk, much of that over the years has been based on a member’s perceptions and what he or she feels, sees and picks up in the environment he or she is in. Dr. Shannon found that we applied that very well and in a very sensitive way.
Mr. Todd is right that for every issue or incident that arises for policing there is a call for additional training. The spectrum is jammed full at the moment, both here and, as Mr. Todd describes, in the North. The bottom line is that for everything one trains for, something else falls off the far side, as it were. One can only take on so many of the roles that other agencies are more experienced at. Mr. Todd is right when he says that when we get into that space, we start creating a risk for ourselves and for others in many cases. We are changing the nature of the game in policing ourselves, and as I went through the list of training for community gardaí and what they will be exposed to, they are taking training on trauma, mental health and such areas that would not have been on the floor, so to speak, for policing. It would have been a traditional approach to policing. The environment has changed quite considerably for us and training will change accordingly.
Going back to how it should be addressed, the joint agency response to crime is the way forward. Mr. Todd hinted at it with regard to the PSNI, where we are operating with other agencies that have the capacity and expertise to deliver services that we cannot instead of training police to do it. When we talk about the joint agency response to crime, we are talking about having appropriate agencies working together to provide unified, integrated services to people whom it is not appropriate for police to service on their own. That will require some significant changes because the Deputy is right that, in certain circumstances, some agencies work from Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and I have worked at the coalface in and around Pearse Street and Store Street for many years, as a sergeant, inspector, superintendent and chief superintendent, where people present themselves at all hours of the day and night over the weekends. We try to operate the out-of-hours system and we have children and young people looking for a place to stay, but it ends up at a garda's front door. We need to move out of that system when addressing that type of issue. This is a constant situation for policing across Ireland, Northern Ireland and the UK in general. We are all dealing with the same issues.
Mr. Todd said that funding for policing is a political choice, which is a very strong statement. When he says that, I think he is saying that it is under-resourced. He is saying that it is a decision made by the political establishment and that he will work with that. I am not saying that he is outright criticising them. I cannot remember the Garda Síochána authorities being as blatant about the fact that the Garda is under-resourced too. Would it be true to say that the witnesses are more reluctant to say it?
Mr. Pat Leahy:
I will not speak for Mr. Todd because he says what he means and if he wanted to tell the Deputy that he was under-resourced, those are the words he would have used. I will not interpret it that way. It is a political choice. That is the bottom line. The numbers in the Garda are also a political choice. We know we are heading towards 21,000. That is the figure laid down for us. There will be 15,000 sworn members, 4,000 civilian members and 2,000 reservists.
That is the figure that has been set for us and it is the figure we are moving towards. To give Deputy Wallace an indication of the journey so far, in 2009 we had 14,590 and the total today is 13,751. However, we did hit a low in 2014 of in or around 10,500. We have been on a journey - almost of one of rags to riches - but I do not know whether we will reach the target at any stage. I do not know a police organisation - or a police manager - that would say no to additional resources. That is the bottom line. It is set for us and we have to operate within the guidelines. The handrails are set for us in terms of determining strategy and internal operations are down to ourselves.
Mr. Leahy made the point that in order for community policing to be real and to exist rather than just to be a label, the members of a community need to know where they can get a garda and make contact with him or her without having to go the next town. Community gardaí should be available within a reasonable distance. Given that we have closed so many of the stations in the south, do the witnesses think they can do that as well as they would like with the current resources? How do they envisage that happening physically so that a person in any village can contact a member of the Garda in the event of needing one there and then?
Mr. Michael Finn:
I might take that question. One of the difficulties we all experienced in the past when the numbers dropped was that in order to provide 24-7 cover in the main centres, we sucked gardaí in from the outside stations to backfill. Communities in rural areas where some of the smaller stations are located probably suffered most. Given that the numbers are coming back up due to the increase in Garda personnel, we now have an opportunity to put gardaí back into communities and leave them there to focus on engaging with people and dealing with local issues. It was not a mistake because we had no option at the time but to bring in gardaí to keep patrol cars going on a 24-7 basis. Now we have that option and that is what we are looking at in terms of the new policing model. We can start to backfill positions in those communities and those involved will become the local community gardaí in Deputy Wallace's area and in other areas. That is what communities want. They want to know the local garda and to know he is there to help them solve local problems. From my experience, that is the type of presence a lot of communities in rural areas want. That is the reason they were most critical of us in the past when we sucked the resources into the main urban centres. Even if a station remained, it was not open because there was no garda there to open it as he or she was in the local town driving a patrol car and providing a service in the bigger area. We have an opportunity to deal with the issue now and that will be part of our philosophy going forward in terms of getting our resources back up. That type of community policing is what people in rural areas, especially where I come from, want to see.
Mr. Pat Leahy:
In terms of the actual structure that is proposed - we will go back to what we talked about earlier in terms of the use of technology - we are proposing that every division will have a community support office or divisional community policing office that will be contactable by any means. They will be the orchestrators of community policing in the sense that every division and district in the country will be broken down and mapped so that somebody owns every segment of it. In a rural area a person may be required to have a bicycle or a car and additional resources are required for that, but he or she will own a particular area as an individual and will be held accountable and responsible for that, but people will also be part of a broader team for a wider area. We can call it a sector or whatever else is agreed. Every part of the country should be covered by the community policing initiative. People will know who their community garda is, but he or she will be part of a team so even if he or she has a day off, somebody on the team will pick up the slack.
Deputy Wallace referred to resources. In a rural area where the community policing area could be 25 sq. km, a vehicle will be required and we will include that in the cost of introducing a community policing model that has a proper structure and that the practices we employ are effective. That is an example of some of the structures that will be put in place and potentially relates to the 80% of non-crime issues we normally deal with. It is not emergency response but relates to problem solving in communities and it must happen day in and day out. It is not a question of having days of action, it is a constant approach to engaging with communities, determining what the needs are and developing unique responses to them.
The concept of community has changed considerably in the past two or three decades and people are operating almost like customers. People come together as a community but they also come separately. One has to get beyond the broad brushstroke of community and have a unique response to the customer base that is out there, for example, Mrs. Leahy and Mrs. Murphy who have a very different requirement to the group. It is not an easy task but I am prepared to come back to the committee at some stage and go into the challenges associated with community policing and give an indication of how it has been implemented elsewhere, what failures have been encountered, and the challenges presented. It changes the nature of the game for policing. Generally, we all operate to a traditional command-and-control response system. Despite the fact that we have had real successes with community policing, we have not had a national model. In 2015, we were given an award for European best practice in community policing. We were also nominated that years as one of three areas in Europe for the European public sector excellence award in community policing. We have an understanding and knowledge of how to introduce community policing in a microcosm but it is a challenge to do it on a national scale where one delivers a consistent approach to delivering a community-oriented policing service.
To the best of my knowledge, approximately 65% of the prison population have mental health issues. I know the Garda do not put people in prison, that is the job of the Judiciary. It is incredibly challenging for the Garda to be able to link with the services in what Mr. Todd calls the local partnership structure. That will require a lot of work to help more people, especially young people, to stay out of prison and stay out of trouble. Co-operation is required with other service providers. However, so many of the services leave so much to be desired. I refer, for example, to the mental health services in Wexford, which have been severely criticised. They are not nearly good enough. Mr. Leahy spoke about housing earlier. No one can expect the Garda to find housing for people who are in need because the Government cannot find them at the moment. There is insufficient housing for people who are in emergency housing situations in the country today for various reasons. Mr. Todd referred to local partnership structures. Will the Garda form teams with the various service providers? Are they involved already or will a structure be put in place whereby there is more co-operation between them or is that a step too far?
Mr. Pat Leahy:
It is an absolute requirement if we are to address the issues that raised in the report of the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland. That is what it has in mind. It is also what we have in mind ourselves. Some aspects of it are beyond our control but it is definitely the way to go. We have experimented with that recently in respect of the joint agency response to crime, JARC. What is emerging from that process is that having the agencies working together is the way to go. There is no doubt that it is the solution. The statistics from JARC show that it is working. Working together in partnership is the answer. That will be part and parcel of the community policing model that we will roll out. Again, this is about agencies coming together. The agencies have been working together for decades on an ad hocbasis. It is not based on service level agreements but such an approach is needed. The process must be structured and driven from the top. The agencies have worked well together in the past.
The fact that we work very closely with the local authorities and the various services throughout the country is undisputed, but it is not structured and is not based in legislation.
Mr. Alan Todd:
I think the numbers quoted last week show that the organisation is approximately 32% Roman Catholic, for police officers, which is a very healthy figure. That is as high as it has been. The underlying concern debated in the media was that recent recruitment competitions were not bringing through more than 30%, so there will be pressure on the long-term trend. Some of what is helping keep the representation up is that the people retiring are disproportionately from the Protestant community. Therefore, when there is better representation recruited and a high number of people from the Protestant community retiring, the balance of the organisation tends to stay where it has been. Ideally we would like to see in a straw poll that 45% of all our new student officers are from the Roman Catholic community, but because we have not reached that and the long-term trend may come under pressure, that is a strategic concern. There is work going on to see if we can address that.
Mr. Alan Todd:
It is not a factor. The factor we do have concerns about is young Catholic officers policing the area where their families live because paramilitary groupings, especially dissident republicans or self-styled dissident republicans, have used that to target their family members, especially in Derry-Londonderry, because the young folk from the family have joined the police service. We do not make any distinction between the background of officers and the areas they police except where there is a concern in a town they come from. Then we tend not to send them to the town because of the problems that brings. Ironically that flies in the face of community policing because, in a perfect world, a young Gael who comes from County Tyrone, plays in the local GAA club, has gone to the local school and joins the police service would be back delivering a policing service to that community. While we have a particular emphasis and set of problems in Northern Ireland, I know that problem crops up in other jurisdictions from time to time when criminal elements target families of police officers for a range of reasons, but it is much more pronounced in Northern Ireland than elsewhere.
Mr. Alan Todd:
Absolutely. There are several formal groups but we all sit within the criminal justice family under the Department of Justice. Structurally and operationally we work closely in all the areas that one might expect, prison liaison, intelligence sharing, information sharing and cross-working on several aspects of the wider justice family. To that extent there is.
Apart from the prison service, to respond to Assistant Commissioner Leahy's point and the Deputy's last question, that joining up of services and agencies was probably best done at a senior strategic and central level. The challenge for the work on community policing is how to make those joined-up services available to local practitioners and cops. The waiting time for referral for heroin addiction in Belfast can be 18 to 20 weeks. Sometimes it goes beyond that, depending on the waiting lists in the health service. If there is a police officer in a town dealing with an individual who is breaking into houses or cars or stealing from shops to feed their addiction, society's solution should at least include some treatment to remove the causative factor in heroin addiction from that person. If the person has to wait 20 weeks for treatment and the system does not work, they end up in the custody suite, court and prison, which goes back to the Deputy's earlier point. When the local police officer dealing with the problem, using all the skills we have given him or her, identifies the problem, the culprit and a potential solution which requires partnership, how does that police officer use that local knowledge to get a response as opposed to a document signed off between departments headquartered some distance from the officer working on the ground? When I talk about local partnership delivery systems, that is where it has to be joined up. The prison service has a role to play in that, perhaps not a major one but that is a challenge. Communities are telling the cops what the problems are. We know what the underlying problems are and the long-term solutions, but then what? If we cannot get the long-term solution, we end up arresting the culprits, processing them, putting them before the courts and locking them up. That does not feel like sense to me.
Mr. Alan Todd:
We spend a lot of time and effort on the enforcement work as well. It is not fair to say it is a choice because it is an illness that needs treatment like any other addiction but enforcement is an important part of it. Communities need to see the police taking it seriously and responding to community intelligence that so and so at such an address is dealing drugs on a Friday night. They want to see that dealt with. The deterrent that comes from enforcement, deterring people who would deal, taking people's property from them when they have profited from dealing, is an important part of the work but removing the market is a bigger job, and that is a healthcare issue.
Mr. Alan Todd:
I could refer to my previous answer and tell the Deputy that it is a political choice and it might be best left in that place. This argument has raged back and forth and American states are decriminalising and taxing some drugs. My background is as a pharmacist. I know some of the very powerful drugs are available on prescription, how they are regulated and managed and so on. I can see the arguments but I also know that some of the low level drugs become gateways for hard drug users and that has a huge impact on society. UK policing has gone through the effective decriminalisation of cannabis under a previous Home Secretary, which was reversed. That was done at the time apparently to free police resources to deal with more serious matters than cannabis possession. It was reversed because of medical evidence about the long-term psychological and health impacts and the gateway to harder drugs. There are people who know much more about that and are in a better place to make that decision and I will respectfully keep to my enforcement and partnership approach and try to stay out of the argument.
I will finish with the boys from the South. We accept that people have to be kept safe and that requires enforcement of the drug legislation. Would the witnesses say that there is an effort among their members to stress the point that drug use is a health issue as well as what they see sometimes as a crime issue?
Mr. Pat Leahy:
That has been well articulated by An Garda Síochána but it is not a simple issue and it is not as simple as either crime or health. It is a combination of the two and they are inextricably linked. We 100% acknowledge that there is a health issue but there is an enforcement issue required as well. I expect the Deputy is going to move on to ask us also about decriminalisation. There is a discourse around this.
The nature of that discourse has changed. Many years ago, entering into that discourse would have been like meeting a brick wall. People refused to engage with the issue because it was not one they wanted to explore. It is being explored now in the context of what it would look like and how it would work. We have to operate from a position of doing no harm. That is what frightens people. They do not know what we are stepping into. This is a significant change and it must not make the problem worse. Do no harm is our first position. That is what people are struggling with in this space at the moment while this discussion is going on. They want to proof that we are going into a better place with this. As Mr. Todd rightly recounted, some police forces have gone into this space and have since tried to reverse back out of it. There is damage associated with it.
I have seen every aspect of the drugs trade and its effect on human beings - children to their mothers, their fathers, their grannies and everything. Somebody has to convince me as an individual. I am expressing a personal opinion here. It frightens me because I have to operate from a position of doing no harm and I have not yet seen definitive evidence that we would be heading into a better place. I acknowledge, however, that there is a serious health issue around drugs and drug taking, as does An Garda Síochána. That came to the fore very recently with the supervised injecting facilities and legislation around that, which An Garda Síochána will support. There is work to be done in that regard but that change brought the issue to the fore. As I said, the issue is being explored. I am not sure how quickly we will reach decision mode around this. I reiterate, however, that we have to operate from a position of doing no harm. I am absolutely open to discussion around it and to exploring anything that can take us out of the space we are in.
I do not want to argue with Assistant Commissioner Leahy about the issue. If he is interested, I would like to send him some material to read and we can have a debate by email.
Deputy Clare Daly and I opposed legislation to criminalise the purchase of sex introduced. The Act has been in place for more than a year now. It is now a crime on the part of the purchaser rather than the sex worker. We work closely with sex workers and they have already told us they are less safe as a result of the legislation. That is not the fault of An Garda Síochána but the fault of the Oireachtas. Has the legislation created much work for An Garda Síochána?
Mr. Pat Leahy:
I will not deal with the legislation because it is the law. All I can say is that, again, the headspace around this issue in policing has changed substantially in recent years. In my time in the north inner city we dealt with specific issues in that area and all our engagements with the workers - the ladies themselves - were on the basis of their welfare. It was not to criminalise them but to see how safe they were and what we could do to improve safety. That is the space from which we have been operating for a while now.
I certainly do not have evidence of the legislation having a negative impact on policing at the moment. However, there might be somebody else better placed to give the Deputy an answer in that regard. Personally, I have not seen a major impact arising from the legislation and I have not heard soundings on consequences of the legislation.
While I had the opportunity, I wanted to highlight that sex workers feel less safe. It is much more difficult for them now and more of them end up getting hurt because of the legislation. As I said, I accept 100% that it is not An Garda Síochána's fault that the legislation was introduced. I was curious as to the way in which it was falling on the Garda's plate. I thank the assistant commissioner for his reply.
Mr. Pat Leahy:
Ruhama and similar service providers would be well placed to answer the Deputy's questions. I do not mean to place them in that position, but they work very closely with An Garda Síochána. If there is evidence out there, we certainly would or could get it. I just have not heard it in my position.
I thank all the witnesses for being here. I apologise that I had to step out for a moment but the parts of the meeting I was here for made for a very interesting discussion. The first issue I wanted to picked up on is local accountability mechanisms. It is an element of the report of the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland. I will first direct some questions on structures in place in the North to Assistant Chief Constable Todd. I understand the policing and community safety partnerships, PCSPs, are more advanced and robust than the joint policing committees, JPCs, in the South. Will Assistant Chief Constable Todd give us a general sense of what a typical PCSP meeting involves? What are the general functions of these partnerships and how effective are they? How much community buy-in exists in the different communities?
I also have questions for the two lads from An Garda Síochána. In terms of the JPCs and the policing fora, it is not immediately clear to me from the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland's report what the division of labour between the two will be in future. In my experience, the community fora are much more effective and there is much more community interest in them. The JPCs can often amount to information sessions for members of local authorities. That is the responsibility of local authority members and Oireachtas Members too as they often do no more than ask questions. Nonetheless, there is more meaty engagement and, if is not quite the case that more formal decisions are taken, there is at least more general agreement to action things at the policing fora. There seems to be more of a focus on that in the report of the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland but I am not entirely clear on what a JPC should do as of now. I would welcome observations from the representatives of An Garda Síochána on how either of these two accountability mechanisms could be strengthened.
Mr. Alan Todd:
Post the Patten commission, the original structures were called district policing partnerships. There was one district policing partnership in each of the policing districts, which are coterminous with the council areas in Northern Ireland. Local authority areas are coterminous with policing and district policing partnerships in order to maintain accountability. That role changed over time. A number of partners and functions were merged, through the councils, into policing and community safety partnerships but the ethos remains the same. It is a slight play on language. They sit under the auspices and governance of the Northern Ireland Policing Board, which is analogous to the Policing Authority here. They are managed, supported and funded through that structure. While the policing board holds the Chief Constable accountable for the performance of the police service, the language around policing and community safety partnerships is that they monitor local performance but there is actually an accountability framework, or at least we treat it that way, which errs on the side of more rather than less accountability.
Typically the meetings would begin with the local police commander and some of his or her team providing an update on performance against the local policing plan. Having a local policing plan which sits under the umbrella of the Northern Ireland Policing Board's policing plan for Northern Ireland is another function of the policing and community safety partnership. That is designed to give that body, in dialogue with the local commander, a say in the policing priorities for the local district within a wider framework over the next year. The commanders use those meetings to report back on how they are performing against that plan, on what is working and on what is not working, and on anything that has changed in the meantime.
There is then a general discussion forum for any other policing issues of the day. That might include signal crimes, incidents, developing trends and that sort of thing. As the Deputy might imagine given this morning's conversation, that conversation often wanders off into determinations that certain issues will be a matter for the council or one or other department. Very few problems have one answer from one place. That experience is probably foremost in my mind when I see what the likely future for that structure is. I think we should retain that local planning because legislation in the North has introduced the concept of community planning. The local councils are involved in community plans, of which policing and policing plans are aspects. However, if one takes community planning, local accountability and partnership working, that seems to be a rich space for a true police and community safety partnership on which all the relevant agencies would sit and take a holistic view of the problems in the area and how they can be influenced holistically by local service delivery.
That is where it has to go to. That is the current structure and its current format. The important parts from my perspective is that it has helped to change the culture down through the years. Accountability has gone from being viewed as a novel idea to being part of the air that one breathes. Accountability is a complete non-contentious matter and it is what one expects to do as a local commander. As a commander, in the districts I have run I use the cultural change opportunity to take my local sergeants down to those meetings. If we are truly into local neighbourhood policing, run by the local team, under the local sergeant, then who better to hear what the public is saying and to respond in terms of what the police are doing one the ground, without any filtering by the senior manager such as me, than the local sergeant and local inspector on those teams? I used that process quite deliberately to try to build that relationship. We talk about maximum devolvement of decision making. I believe in devolving the accountability as well. I actually believe the local TD, MLA, MP or local representative should be able to ring up the local sergeant. If they ring me, I will only ring the sergeant anyway and give him or her my version of what I heard on the phone. The local relationship is germane to local policing, local understanding and local relationship building. That is what we have done, almost as a collateral benefit to that structure. That is a bit like social media, letting go the control and letting that happen at that level. As a senior manager, I am acting as an enabler and putting a wrap around to it, so that one gets flagged on critical issues with which the local team needs support or what is happening in the area.
Accountability works on a number of levels. There is more we could do with it, as I have outlined further this morning. That is my rationale behind it.
Mr. Michael Finn:
In the context of the structure of the joint policing committee, JPC, versus the local community fora, what Mr. Todd has said echoes my experience on the ground. The joint policing committee was a very formal structure and it played its role, but real service was delivered down in the local fora, because the local sergeant and the local superintendent met the local community and that is where the real local needs came out. There was accountability in that system because the gardaí had to come back the following week and were asked about the particular problem which the community had put on the table that needed to be resolved. The local fora gave a much better service to the community at local level in terms of solving the problems. I would certainly love to have more agencies involved. It was great to have the local authority as well as the gardaí but as Mr. Todd stated there are lots of agencies which are involved in providing services in the community and their representatives need to be sitting around the table, asking how all the agencies can come together to resolve those issues.
They are not just policing issues, invariably they are issues that deal with education, housing etc. and it is only by all those around the table taking that holistic approach to solving problems, that things happen.
We are putting a new structure into An Garda Síochána and we want to give our local superintendents' communications hubs the time and capacity to sit down and work and do that type of engagement. The Garda were not always able to do that type of engagement in the past because they were too distracted doing court work, investigations and discipline work that was taking us away from the core function of what superintendents want to be doing at ground level. I think we will see changes when we get our new model up and running.
Mr. Alan Todd:
The frustration for policing in the Policing and Community Safety Partnerships, PCSP, structure is that of all the agencies in the partnership only one body in the whole partnership is held accountable by the partnership and that is policing. Given all the conversations we have had this morning and all of partnership requirements for problem solving for communities, that cannot be right.
Mr. Pat Leahy:
If I might come in at this point, I think people have had different experiences around the engagement with joint policing committees, JPCs and community policing fora. I do not want to pre-empt the recent evaluation of JPCs by the Policing Authority. It boils down to relationships and having a dynamic approach to it and the current system is not dynamic. If one is meeting once a quarter as a member of forum, a great deal of water has gone under the bridge in between meetings. What we are proposing in terms of community policing structure, and we have experienced this, is that it be dynamic; then there are no surprises when one goes to the JPC because one has dealt with it all full on. The Garda management knows what is going on, the local representatives know what is going on and the local authority knows what is happening because they are working on it day in and day out; the actual committee becomes a committee. When I was posted to the north inner city and was involved in a JPC I never felt that I was being held accountable any more; as a committee it was our responsibility to deal with the issues and that was the way we approached it, but that came about because we were not lining up a list of issues at a quarterly meeting. This was very dynamic engagement and communication between the local representatives, DCC and the Garda and we were working on the issues day by day. There were no surprises when we got in. We were right up to date with it. That is the place we need to go and the model we are proposing will inject that dynamism when day in and day out we are dealing with problems. It is not something we are waiting to get a list on, whether it be from a community policing forum or from the JPC every three months. We need to get away from that system.
I will move on, but it is something that I hope to put to Ms Kathleen O'Toole when the opportunity arises. If there are to be two structures, the joint policing committee, JPC and the community fora, there is a need for more definition of what are their respective functions. There could be an element of replication or the JPC could become a formal box ticking exercise. That is not necessarily just the responsibility of the Garda; it is also the responsibility of the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland and the legislation and what follows from it.
A major element of the model of community policing that existed in this jurisdiction has been the designated community garda. The number of designated community gardaí has fallen substantially, in the order of 37% since 2010. It has fallen further in some districts, for example the fall in the number of community gardaí in Donegal and in some of the Dublin districts was particularly large. The decrease in numbers in other areas was not quite as dramatic. The proposal in the report of the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland is that every member of the Garda Síochána should be a community garda. I maintain an open mind but I would have some reservations. My concern would be that yes, every garda should be community focused and orientated and conscious of the needs of the community and being responsive to it, but if one does not have a dedicated community garda whose primary focus and responsibility is developing relationships with the community, instead of 10% of the Garda whose primary responsibility is to community policing one will have 100% of the Garda for whom 10% of their responsibility is community policing. If every garda is a community garda, when there is a spike in crime in a particular area or a public order issue, or at the time of year when there are lots of events, do members of the Garda get moved off that intensive community policing work into fire-fighting whatever particular issues arise at a moment in time? Dr. Johnny Connolly from the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland was before the committee last week and he said that where the community policing model worked well, people knew who their local community garda was and he or she was the person they knew to seek out in the station, or the person to contact about the community bus or other useful information.
From the perspective of Northern Ireland and the South, do the witnesses have a view on the model that every police officer or garda is responsible or that there is a need for dedicated community gardaí?
Mr. Pat Leahy:
The Deputy has raised a really interesting point. Unfortunately when one determines that everybody in the district is a community garda, that has been the greatest escape hatch for the traditional model since policing began where everybody is a community garda but nobody is.
That is not what the commission had in mind. I engaged with members of the commission before this meeting, including Johnny Connolly, and I have had discussions to try to find out what exactly they had in mind. They come out in the commission report and say there is a stratified set of qualities and skills required, and that these will differ. While they highlight that, the Deputy is right, however, that we need to know what the dedicated community garda actually is. The first responders will have a different skill set but they must have a community policing ethos, so there is a certain level of training they must undergo. Similarly, detectives in drugs units must all be indoctrinated into the ethos of being community-centric. A certain skill set is required for that foundation community policing cohort.
We are suggesting that a community garda is determined to be such if he or she is spending 60% or more of his or her time dedicated to community policing. We all know that, for a major protest or major event, it is all shoulders to the wheel in policing. That is the nature of the game. It is what the public would expect and what we ourselves expect. This is the definition we are proposing, namely, they would spend 60% or more of their time dedicated to problem-solving in the community and they would be associated with a particular well-defined area so that everyone in the area would know this was the community garda and that this was the person to call when in trouble.
To manage a situation like that nationally or even on a district basis, there must be a hub and someone must the conductor of all of this. That is why we are suggesting there will be a divisional community policing office that manages all of the data around this and tasks, for example, Pat Leahy, the community garda on the ground, because Mrs. Murphy is saying she has an issue. She is now Pat Leahy's constituent, and he is responsible for minding that person and making sure the problem is solved. If the garda needs to leverage resources to come in and assist, such as a detective unit, a drugs unit or a traffic unit, the system should facilitate that very effectively.
That is probably what is most appropriate in this respect. It is a concept that has created a conversation around this because it has in the past presented the escape hatch for policing to say they are there already and no change is required. I can be categorical, from talking to members of the commission, that that is not what they have in mind. They have a paradigm shift in mind in that we need to go back to the drawing board and reconstitute our approach to community policing. They are unambiguous and very strong about that.
Mr. Alan Todd:
I am very much in the same place. I do not think we can ever achieve the "Every officer is a community officer" place. In many ways, it would be folly to try, although it has been used as a bit of a panacea in the past. I agree with Assistant Commissioner Leahy that it is about the mindset, ethos and skills. That is the way our policing in the community project has approached this, namely, through cross-cutting values and skills and approaches across the business area. If one needs to get the community focus at the front end of operations, the specialists work through the local neighbourhood sergeant and local neighbourhood team. The community impact assessment and the advice from the local sergeant tailors what that operation ends up looking like because everyone understands they are there to solve problems on behalf of the community, and they do not want to create problems by not being thoughtful or not being consultative and collaborative around it. Those are the working practices that come out of this.
I would say our detectives and specialist units that support the local police in those operations have a community policing mindset and an understanding of this area. They have almost a second nature and they understand why they are there, working through local cops as opposed to just being a specialist unit that arrives in town for the day and disappears tomorrow. That is the shift that is required in order that everyone will have that mindset and ethos. When we talk about the national decision-making model in the UK, people will take us round the various steps of it but what they often forget is that sitting in the middle of the model and the touchstone for each element of it are values and community policing behaviours. That is the piece we rely on so we get that piece across the organisation. That delivers more than the strapline, "Every cop is a community cop", because it just does not work that way.
Mr. Michael Finn:
In that context, in the first quarter of next year, when he rolls out the divisional policing model for Cork city, Chief Superintendent McPolin will say that he has a dedicated team of a sergeant and ten gardaí in each of the four districts of Cork city. He is effectively doubling the number to give the type of service the Deputy would like to see and which we gave in the past in Cork city.
Credit where it is due. As we said before, to be fair, the chief superintendent did protect the community policing model in Cork very well. Togher does need a community bus, all the same, if he wants to think about that.
Mr. Pat Leahy:
On a point that might round off this discussion, the issue raised is very important and I want to quote some of the research done on the nature of the challenge that is in front of us as an organisation. This is not about an add-on. It is a complete reorientation from a traditional model to a community orientation. Much has been written on this, including the following point:
The adaptive nature of the challenge has also been highlighted by others who suggest that failure to emphasise the challenge associated with this transition can make the reforms seem too simple - an apple pie issue of 'getting closer to the community' or a technical issue of effective implementation. That naïveté, in turn, may leave many police departments unprepared for the type of resistance that emerges and incapable of understanding it.
There is a discourse yet to be had to understand where we are being asked to go with this and where we propose to go. It is not what we have done before.
I hope there will be a report as a result of this and that the committee's work can inform this as best it can. One of the themes that emerged from the other questions is the fact that so much of what the Garda and the PSNI have to do would not be considered core traditional policing work, that of being the emergency service of last resort. The following are my words and not those of the witnesses, but it seems to me that I am picking up a certain level of frustration with some of the other agencies and the fact they could perhaps be doing more, and certainly that there are gaps outside of policing that need to be rectified. I am curious as to what more needs to be done outside of policing. Are there services that need to provide more of a 24 hour service? I am thinking in particular of the social services and Tusla. Do we need to consider a more 24-7 model for social services of that kind?
I believe there is a model in Assistant Chief Constable Todd's area entitled "concern hubs" or "support hubs", which are related to cross-agency work. Will he give us an outline of that?
Mr. Alan Todd:
The concern hub structure is the partnership piece I have been talking about throughout the meeting. "Concern hub" was the original title whereas partnership hubs are what it has migrated to. That is the concept. Assistant Commissioner Leahy talked about, for example, the role of the office of the District Court in co-ordinating and tasking. I would like to see the concern hubs become that on a daily basis for the partnerships, whereby the partners are tasking what is required in response to the needs of the community, and the police would just feed into that as a service delivery structure. At the moment, while the concern hubs and partnership hubs have staff from the agencies, they are only meeting formally once a week or once a fortnight. I would like to see that being much more dynamic, driving the daily business much more, and actually coming together as a partnership. One could take any range of partners and put them at these microphones this morning and they would have a similar conversation about the stresses and strains, the resources and the increasing demands. However, there is a synergy from us all getting involved in this and helping each other solve what are actually the problems of all. If it sounds as if I am being critical of partners, which includes ourselves as well, to the extent that we have not cracked this in terms of the synergies and benefits we could have from better partnership work.
Mr. Pat Leahy:
If it has come across that I am frustrated with other agencies, we need to knock that on the head because no one has the high moral ground on this one. The system is the system, and no individual agency chose it. My experience, from working with the other agencies, is that the best of the best people I have worked with in my career have been in other agencies, along with An Garda Síochána. When they come together, they can move mountains - that is for sure.
Is a bit of alignment required? Yes, absolutely, but this is looking to the future as well as looking back into the very recent past, when we understood that partnership was the way to go.
It takes time to turn the ship - that is for sure. I go back to the joint agency response to crime, JARC, in which we have been working together for the last two years with agencies with which we previously did not have a service level agreement. We have found that it is absolutely the way to go, but it takes time. We now have the Department on side and the Minister opened the evaluation; therefore, we are getting into that head space across the spectrum of agencies. In the future there is no doubt that alignment will be an absolute requirement, down to ground level. Everybody is moving into that head space; it just does not happen overnight. That is the reality.
Mr. Michael Finn:
The future of policing document mentions setting up crisis intervention teams at district level between the Garda and the other agencies. As we move forward, we will be looking to see how we can develop them and if there is a role for agencies. We will be considering how it might shape things at local level.
To rephrase the general point, it seems that no matter how efficient or good co-operation is with other organisations, if the vast majority of the other organisations close their doors at 5 p.m. on a Friday, responsibility will fall on the Garda. Would it assist the Garda or the PSNI if services were provided 24/7? I am thinking in particular of social services and Tusla. Through no fault of their own, they have their own difficulties in terms of the provision of resources. They do not have the staff they would like to have to fulfil their functions. Would it assist the Garda at those pinch points if greater support and resources were available to Tusla and social services?
Mr. Michael Finn:
I think it would. That takes me back to an experience I had in Cork when Tusla was set up. It ran a pilot project in Cork, whereby it made social services available to us outside office hours. We had a mobile phone number available to us and could call someone at the weekend. It worked very effectively for us. However, replicating it throughout the country might have presented a difficulty for the agency at that stage, but it was certainly very productive for us to be able to make a call to tell a social worker who would have had access to the file that we had young Johnny with us. The social workers knew the background as they had been dealing with the families and knew how to resolve the issues. In my experience, having that level of access would certainly be very useful to us.
Mr. Alan Todd:
As a newly promoted inspector some years ago, on most Monday mornings when I came into the police station, there would have been one or two dogs tied up in the back yard, having been fed all weekend. When I asked what the dogs were doing there, I was told that it was because the dog warden did not work at the weekend. The dog warden worked for the council and finished work at 5 p.m. on a Friday and did not start again until the Monday. The police were looking after the dogs in the back yard because that was what we did. It extended to a conversation about how there had been noisy parties at the weekend, yet the council noise enforcement officer had not been out because he or she did not work at the weekend. We are in a changing society, in which there are issues with substance and domestic abuse which peak at the weekend when most of the support structures are not working, just the police.
Focusing on community policing in rural areas, with which the report will also deal, a few issues have been flagged, one of which is the need for community CCTV facilities. I note that there are some difficulties in that regard in terms of who is responsible for data management. What is the Garda's understanding of where things stand? What are the delegates' views on the function it could have?
Another issue is parole. Some have proposed changes to legislation for persons out on parole. Do the delegates want to offer a view on whether there is a need for changes to legislation on how those out on parole are managed? Are they satisfied with how the Garda is able to manage and monitor persons out on parole, particularly those with prior offences? This is an open-ended question, at which I am not coming from a particular point of view. It is one of the issues that is sometimes raised with us as representatives. From a legislative and a capacity and resourcing point of view, are the delegates satisfied with the way persons out on parole are monitored?
Mr. Pat Leahy:
I will answer the question about CCTV schemes. They were brought forward under the Garda Síochána Act 2005. The Deputy is really referring to section 38(3)(a) and (c). There are 36 Garda schemes up and running, as well as 67 local authority schemes. There are lots of schemes in place, but what differs greatly is how they play out in numbers in the various local authority areas. In County Limerick there are 17 schemes in place, but in County Mayo there are only two. There are ten in place in Dublin and five in County Wexford. Overall, the number is quite sparse in some places, while the measure is being used effectively in others. They are the figures we have. As I said, there are 67 local authority schemes, for which the data controller is the relevant local authority. For the 36 Garda schemes, the local superintendent is the data controller. That is how the measure is working.
Mr. Michael Finn:
The challenge is presented by community-based CCTV schemes which were not established by the Garda. They were set up within communities and funding was available for them. The statutory instrument put the onus on the local authority as the data controller. They may be having difficulties in dealing with that responsibility. They share a lot of their data with us. If a crime is committed, under the legislation, we can have access to their data. The local authorities have a difficulty in managing all of the CCTV systems and being the data controller for them. The statutory instrument put the onus on them for the schemes.
Mr. Alan Todd:
It is a problem for us in Northern Ireland. There is large-scale capital investment by central government to fund the establishment of schemes. The schemes are now coming to the end of their life and there is no capital available to replace them. Local authorities do not want to pick up the revenue costs and the lines in our budget from which we used to contribute have also been squeezed. We have been made the offer of a free transfer of capital assets of community schemes to policing, but I have had to turn it down because I do not have the money to refresh them or the revenue streams to monitor them and all the rest. That is counter-intuitive in terms of public confidence, but I literally do not have the money to pay for them. Unless we can have local models that are supported by local businesses and local authorities, that are funded locally and bolted in and that the police can access, I do not see the police being able to maintain them with what we have within current budget arrangements, never mind expand on them.
Mr. Michael Finn:
On the question of parole, the most pressing day-to-day issue for us is the bail aspect. Having the capacity to go back to the court speedily to seek an order where somebody is in breach of parole conditions is what we would be looking for, if we were looking for something in that regard. If somebody is out on licence, the process of getting him or her back in is what we would highlight.
On the Sex Offenders Act, in cases where people misbehave but are not obliged under the Act to comply with our instructions, I have the capacity to go to court to seek an order if I can show that the behaviour of the person is proportionate to making them made subject to the Sex Offenders Act. It is very useful legislation that we can use.
Mr. Michael Finn:
If someone is out on bail, we have the capacity to bring him or her back into court. Making the process as user friendly as possible is what we would seek. I might have five gardaí on night duty who discover that Mick Finn is in breach of bail conditions. A statement by those gardaí to the effect that they called to his house and that he was not there should be sufficient to go back into court. However, some judges insist on the garda who detected a breach of bail conditions having to come in for us to get a warrant to have the person brought to court.
That is the type of issue I would like to see dealt with in the context of the Bail Act. They are the day-to-day housekeeping issues that impact most on the ground in terms of the resources available to me. Is that what the Deputy was asking about?
Yes. My final question is more of an observation which I also made to Foróige at our previous meeting. An issue that keeps being raised at policing forum meetings is the large amount of time being spent by gardaí in moving young people on from where they have congregated. Sometimes, there is an anti-social behaviour or criminal element to what is happening, but the congregating is often benign. There is a mixture. It seems that many of these issues are arising because of the lack of investment in youth facilities. Particularly if they are not into sport, there is nowhere for young people in the 13 to 17 years age bracket to go. They end up congregating in places, which can legitimately cause others to become concerned. Do the Garda and the PSNI have a view on the type of investment that is required in youth services?
Mr. Alan Todd:
The difficulty in policing lies in making decisions about the spectrum of innocent folks who are catching up with one another moving into low level anti-social behaviour to higher level anti-social behaviour to crime. In some places large numbers of meetings arranged via social media have caused problems and we have had to make a more robust response, as the meetings are causing fear among local communities, as well as low level crime, including criminal damage. It has been an emerging trend for us. Whether issues such as this have to do with a lack of facilities is a conversation people have been having for as long as I remember. We have not yet solved the problem. The position varies from area to area. With an ageing population, people have a different perception of three or four young people on a street corner and can make calls to the police. I am unsure as to whether providing more facilities would be an answer. I am a supporter of having facilities available for young people to give them something constructive to do with their time, but we also have other challenges to face on the edges in the social media age.
Mr. Michael Finn:
Not every young person is into sport. I acknowledge all of the fantastic work sports organisations do in keeping young people out of mainstream policing, but they do not cater for everyone. It is a question of trying to find something that will cater for that niche of people in their formative years, which is a time when they can be led astray. From my policing experience, services that take young people away from a life of crime are a good investment. They can fall into that life easily if they do not have support, guidance or something that channels their energy. In my experience, giving them the capacity to use that energy productively is a positive.
Mr. Pat Leahy:
It is a challenge. For the cohort of kids in or around the 14 to 17 years age group, an authoritative figure in uniform is not the first person they want to see. That is not a new phenomenon for us.
We skipped over the matter of kids who were involved in sport, but I will provide an example. With other stakeholders, we run the Late Night Leagues every year. In 2018, 1,763 kids were involved. The games generally take place on a Friday night at times when kids are most likely to be out and about getting themselves into bother. In 2017, 2,100 kids were involved.
I will take the committee through the list of initiatives under way across the country. While they do not all engage with kids, some do. I have stripped some out, leaving 174 individual initiatives that engage with and are embedded in communities. I could have included three or four times that number. Great efforts are being made, but engaging with young people of that age is a major challenge for us. They are beginning to have thought processes of their own and making their own decisions. I do not mean to be facetious, but it was Mark Twain who said that, when he was in his teens, he thought his father knew nothing about anything but that, once he had hit his mid-20s, he was surprised by how much his father had learned in such a short time. We are dealing with that cohort of people and it is difficult.
The diversion programme run by the Garda has a major success rate. We include young people involved in criminal activities in the diversion programme and get them through it. A large number never reoffend or come back into the programme. It is another aspect. Unfortunately, it comes after we have encountered them in criminal justice scenarios. Considerable efforts are being put into it.
I will make just a couple of points on my own behalf. Mr. Todd's response to the inquiry about Brexit echoed almost verbatim what I received last week from the executive director of Europol. I am part of the 28-member joint policing scrutiny group across the European Union. I put the question to the new executive director, Ms Catherine De Bolle. I listened carefully to Mr. Todd and thought to myself that his reply was almost exactly the same. Even on the bigger stage, the situation is no different than from what it is on our own small island.
I am a Border Deputy and also a proud Ulster man. Cross-Border crime presents in a number of ways. It does not affect the agricultural community only. I commend the PSNI. In recent days I noted that there had been a significant retrieval of stolen goods north of the Border that the news reports indicated had all been stolen south of the Border. It is not something on which Mr. Todd can comment because it is probably in the judicial realm, but it is indicative of the level of cross-Border co-operation and the good work being done on the ground. In that regard, I should also commend Mr. Todd's colleagues in the Garda.
I noticed in the statistics Mr. Leahy cited that there had been a considerable reduction in the level of rustling. It was once a significant issue, certainly in Cavan-Monaghan. While it did not all make its way north of the Border, there was a strong sense or suspicion and a suggestion in public discourse that it did.
All of these issues are of great concern within the Border region. We can only take solace from the fact that we will see an increase in community policing south of the Border as a result of the significantly improved throughput at the Garda College in Templemore. We will unquestionably receive our share. On the situation north of the Border, is Mr. Todd anticipating an intensified recruitment drive? Is it something that is in the offing?
Mr. Alan Todd:
No. In the absence of the Executive, we are in the unfortunate position of having to work with a year-by-year budget. Normally the PSNI would plan on the basis of a three to five-year strategic budget. For three or four years there has been a year-by-year settlement, sometimes even after the financial year has begun and which generally involves less than what we had in the previous year in real terms. There is no prospect of a substantial uplift in police officer numbers. In fact, the pressure is always downwards. Depending on what Brexit and policing requirements look like, there will be questions about whether there is a need for resources. While the questions have been asked, no promises have been given. In the short term, it is a reasonable proposition to seek to increase the level of student officer recruitment as a contingency measure in the context of what Brexit might look like, but such is the attrition rate in the organisation owing to the number of officers retiring that, if we were to stop recruiting, we would come straight back to the numbers we now have and it would not serve to increase the size of the organisation significantly.
The short answer is "No", but there is a wider context to it.
I would hope that Brexit is not the prompt that results in additional resourcing; I hope it is for other, better reasons in terms of everything else we have discussed today.
On the matter of the assembly and Mr. Todd's reference earlier to statutory compulsion, my colleagues have picked up on that and it is very important and useful information. As Chairman of the committee, and in view of the various hats I wear, I hope that the assembly and Executive will be back up and running as quickly as possible, not only for the sake of this matter - whatever the reasons it could not be embraced North of the Border as it has been in England and Wales with perhaps a slightly different arrangement in Scotland - but also in terms of all the other matters that are not being addressed. I know all colleagues here share my view.
It was indicated that a number of the statistics are down. From what I noted from what was put on the record, that is a consequence of good policing work in terms of prevention. Burglaries and all of that are down - reference was made to Operation Thor - because of preventative work. That is most important and I congratulate the Garda on all of it. However, I wonder what has happened in respect of detection statistics. Perhaps the witnesses do not have the figures with them but they might like to comment on that area.
Mr. Pat Leahy:
I will certainly comment on it, although the Chairman is right that I do not have the figures with me. So many changes have taken place in the crime counting rules and various other aspects. The committee would certainly need an analyst to describe and explain what has happened in respect of the statistics. There are anomalies in statistics for detections, for sure. Across policing generally, it is an area about which we need to be really careful.
There are perverse outcomes that come from chasing detections and we have seen that in the past across the globe. For example, if I send out 50 additional gardaí in Dublin city centre on Friday and Saturday night next, the public order figures will shoot up because I will have more people to engage earlier with public order incidents. That does not mean public order is any worse. Equally, if I say there is no overtime this weekend and nobody is working on public order, the figures will drop and it will look really good. We need to look into and beyond the statistics. There are questions to be asked. I am only giving an example showing how the statistics can change without it meaning that the situation has changed. In respect of sexual assaults, we are doing everything we can to make it easier for people to report in that space. That is what we want. However, that is going to affect both the numbers and the detection rates. We are trying to achieve one outcome but we are being hammered because we are achieving it. There really is a deep understanding required in respect of detection and reporting rates. The committee would need to dedicate a day to the subject on its own.
Mr. Michael Finn:
I might share some of the knowledge here. I have to claim responsibility for some of it due to some work I was doing on improving the quality of our data across the organisation. One of the initiatives we brought in was in respect of how we claim detections. When somebody was apprehended in the past, we would have claimed detection earlier on. Now we have changed it in the interests of improving our data, so that it is not until someone is summonsed to court that the detection is claimed. This year, our detections dropped because of that lag. It is only when the cases come to court now that a detection will be claimed. That has impacted on our detection statistics for the first half of this year. It will probably be March of next year, when we will have had 12 months of the new statistics, that we will see it beginning to level out and come back to normal. Right now, there is a dip in the detection rate caused by that anomaly for which I have to take some responsibility. Yesterday, I met officials from the Central Statistics Office and they are quite happy. The office knows what we are doing and why. It is all part of our initiative to improve the quality of data.
Next week, the committee will be meeting representatives of the Irish Farmers Association and the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers Association. We are looking forward to that and no doubt some of the matters discussed today will be reflected very strongly by those organisations.
We will have Mr. Todd's former colleague and Mr. Finn's and Mr. Leahy's new Commissioner before us on 24 October for his first appearance before the committee. It is not in connection with today's topic but in the wider, normal engagement we have with An Garda Síochána. We are looking forward to having Garda Commissioner Drew Harris in attendance on that day.
A number of references were made to the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland. Kathleen O'Toole is coming back from the United States to bring a small team from the commission before us on 7 November, when we will have an opportunity to engage with them on the report that has been recently published.
On behalf of the committee, I thank our three guests for taking the time to be with us this morning. It has been very helpful and their opening statements and contributions have been hugely informative and will help in the compilation of our report and recommendations, which we will present to the Minister and to both Houses of the Oireachtas. It has been 12 years since Hugh Orde attended the committee. That is quite a long gap. I do not expect it to be as long again before another representative of the PSNI attends the committee and hope Mr. Todd will report positively on the engagement here this morning.