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How and why under-pressure gardaí faked checkpoints

It’s detailed in a report from the Policing Authority.

Image: Sam Boal

REPORTS THAT BREATH test figures had been falsified emerged last year – and now a new report from the Policing Authority details how faked checkpoints likely contributed to the inflated numbers.

The report, which was published yesterday, looks at both the breath test and the fixed charge notice/summons scandals (you can read more about the report here). But one part of the report goes into detail about how and why checkpoints were faked.

The checkpoints

Mandatory Intoxicant Testing (MIT) checkpoints are required by legislation to be authorised by a member of Inspector rank or above, and are scheduled to take place during ‘tours of duty’, or patrol shifts.

During the authority’s consultancy meetings across the 28 garda divisions, many members “indicated that the number of checkpoints scheduled during a tour of duty (10-hour patrol shift) could be up to three or four, regardless of time of day”. But not all of these checkpoints took place.

According to the report, the focus of management was on the number of checkpoints undertaken, so there was an expectation at both management and supervisory levels that the MIT checkpoints which were authorised in advance would be carried out during the shift.

And failure to operate a checkpoint would require an explanation.

The authority says that in many cases there were “quite understandable reasons” why checkpoints couldn’t be carried out – like bad weather, or urgent calls, or serious incidents.

But it also says:

The general situation appears to have been that garda members felt that they were under some pressure to report that the number of checkpoints authorised had in fact been conducted, whether or not they actually had.

Impact on breath tests

Underlining how important these falsified checkpoints were, its report says that the falsified breath-test figures “were in effect a by-product of the recording of MIT checkpoints on Pulse”.

This is because while a checkpoint was being recorded on Pulse, the system required a number to be entered in respect of the breath tests conducted – and that number had to be greater than zero, says the report.

The report says that from talking to frontline gardaí and supervisors, it was reported that some members would inflate the number of MIT checkpoints recorded on Pulse and thereby the number of breath tests, in order to be seen to have delivered the number of checkpoints authorised for that shift.

A number of garda members in a busy urban station told the authority that they “were freuqnetly under significant pressure when on patrol, and at any given time might have six or seven backed up calls awaiting their response”.

They said they simply couldn’t manage to perform alll of the checkpoints authorised, due to this pressure.

They had developed a “habit” of “entering erroneous data onto Pulse”, says the report, entering false data in respect of checkpoints not operated.

The authority was also advised that on occasions, “supervisory sergeants would suggest that the numbers be inflated in order to comply with management expectations relating to MIT checkpoints being operated”.

Some garda members – serving and retired – told the authority of cases of “the authorisations… or garda taking advantage of frontline supervision and remaining in the patrol car or in the station rather than conducting the checkpoint”.

This tendency seems to have been particularly prevalent amongst regular uniformed gardaí who would have a range of activities to cover.

While garda health and safety requirements said a minimum of two members should be present at a checkpoint, in some rural areas up to 80% of patrols were undertaken by a single member. Some gardaí said that management would frequently schedule checkpoints knowing they could never be carried out.

 

Competition and rivalry

According to the report, the pressure “was apparently more implied than explicitly stated”, with no documentation presented in respect of any directives to gardaí.

The pressure was often related to actual performance figures presented at divisional or regional meetings – no division wanted to be ‘bottom of the league’ and “there was often a degree of competition and rivalry between divisions” relating to checkpoints.

The report states that the view of divisional officers at chief superintendent level, and other member local management teams, was that “there was never any such pressure placed upon frontline members and supervisors”.

Indeed, many senior divisional members were of the opinion that they were happy if checkpoints didn’t take place, provided a valid reason was given.

Added to this, the report says that the scheduling of high numbers of checkpoints “was reported by senior members as a deliberate mechanism to ensure that at least some checkpoints could be performed”.

One senior garda member said: “I schedule 10 checkpoints in the hope that three might get done.”

This reinforced the view among those in the senior ranks that performing checkpoints wasn’t to be at the cost of other aspects of operational policing.

To underscore the gap between what senior and operational gardaí believed regarding checkpoints, the report says that some senior gardaí stated that they now schedule “more realistic numbers of checkpoints”.

The obvious implication here is “that the numbers were previously unrealistic”, says the report.

When the authority reviewed a selection of divisional policing plans published between 2009 and 2016, in a number of them there were specific targets relating to both MIT checkpoints and breath tests.

This is at odds with some claims by senior officers that no such targets existed.

The gardaí’s own Modernisation and Renewal Programme 2016 – 2021 states that it was proposed to increase MAT [MIT] checkpoints by 10% each year over the next five years.

The authority said it was surprised that no senior members of the gardaí acknowledged that the programme contains specific targets relating to MIT checkpoints.

Significant pressure

In its assessment, the Policing Authority says:

We believe that there was significant pressure within the organisation to be seen to deliver against targets that were set – whether at divisional level within the annual policing plan, or for a patrol setting out for its tour of duty with an expectation that it would undertake the three MIT checkpoints that it had been authorised to conduct, or at some other level within the organisation…

For some garda members, responding to that pressure entailed deliberate falsification of MIT checkpoint data entered on to Pulse.

The report also details how there was a lack of precision in the recording of figures relating to checkpoints.

“Members report – and call samples reveal – that a ‘guesstimate’ of the number of breath tests recorded was routinely submitted”, says the report.

Gardaí also had to estimate other data for the checkpoint – such as total numbers of vehicles passing through.

Checkpoints were frequently not recorded on Pulse immediately after they were finished. This may have contributed to the lack of precision, says the report.

The authority assessed that there was a strong suggestion “that there was among many garda members a tendency to overestimate, guesstimate, and/or round-up the actual numbers of tests performed at MIT checkpoints, exacerbated by phoning this data in at much later times and for more than one members’ activity”.

The authority said it was highly unlikely in its opinion that there was any connection between the inflation of checkpoint data and personal gain for a garda.

However it said that it is apparent that garda members did not perceive the exact number of breath tests performed as important.

It recommended that the need for precision should be emphasised to all garda members involved in recording and reporting MIT checkpoint data.

Read: Gardaí reported fake checkpoints – and falsified 400k more breath checks than previously thought>

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