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Garda Commissioner apologises to domestic abuse victims affected by cancelled 999 calls

Some 312 victims had their calls cancelled before there was an appropriate policing response, the garda probe has found so far.

Over 300 victims had their calls cancelled before gardaí responded to them appropriately
The issue arose after problems with an antiquated IT system that has been in operation since the 1980s
Gardaí are continuing to contact victims of domestic abuse who may have been impacted
Over 300 victims had their calls cancelled before gardaí responded to them appropriately The issue arose after problems with an antiquated IT system that has been in operation since the 1980s Gardaí are continuing to contact victims of domestic abuse who may have been impacted
Image: PA

GARDA COMMISSIONER DREW Harris has apologised to hundreds of domestic abuse victims who had their 999 calls erroneously cancelled between 2019 and 2020.

The exact extent of the issue is still unknown as an internal garda inquiry is “a work in progress”, but initial findings estimate some 312 victims had their calls cancelled before there was an appropriate policing response.

The commissioner said he was not in the position to give a definitive figure but said that “in some instances An Garda Síochána did not provide the standard of service to victims of domestic abuse that is required”.

“On behalf of An Garda Síochána, I want to apologise to those victims. They are among the most vulnerable people in society and when some victims of domestic abuse called for our assistance they did not always receive the professional service we aim to deliver and victims are entitled to expect,” said Harris.

“We are still working to determine the exact extent of this issue, but it is clear that at time victims of domestic abuse were not provided with the full level of support as set out in An Garda Síochána policies.”

The commissioner also revealed that the inquiry has so far found the issue was caused by technological and procedural failings, as well as individual gardaí not adhering to procedures and policies.

Commissioner Harris held a public meeting with the Policing Authority today to answer questions about the failure of gardaí to properly respond to emergency calls.

During the meeting, the authority’s chairman Bob Collins expressed “intense frustration” that it was not provided with information that was available to the gardaí.

“We now know that the seriousness and the substance, about which we began to have an apprehension in March, had been widely understood within the organisation from October. And it has been a source of significant concern and, not to put a tooth in it, fairly intense frustration,” Collins said.

‘Confident it won’t happen again’

The internal study, led by Assistant Commissioner Barry O’Brien, centred around the Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD) system – an antiquated IT system that has been in operation since the 1980s.

It was, in recent years, rolled out across the country as An Garda Síochána sought to remove the pen and paper from control rooms.

In late April, Harris told a Policing Authority meeting that there was a problem with the system’s response and that an investigation was underway.

O’Brien examined 3,000 calls in the two year period, with the interim report finding that about half of these calls were cancelled correctly but hundreds of calls were not. 

Each call is logged on this system and then a garda unit is assigned to it. The CAD system then has details of each call, the response and the outcome when gardaí attend a scene.

CAD, which is made up of four separate systems, currently has no instrumentation to provide data for monitoring and diagnostics.

A garda spokesperson said it took “three or four months” to extract data from the system as part of the inquiry which was launched when a victim of domestic abuse raised concerns about the nature of the 999 response.

The probe has so far found that 78% of early closure incidents had at least two staff members assigned to the incident – e.g the call taker and dispatcher. 89% of domestic violence calls had two staff members assigned at the time.

Of the 1.4 million calls logged on CAD from 1 January 2019 to 21 October 2020, 12% of incidents were closed and marked cancelled on the system.

The inquiry has so far focused on DVSA (Domestic Violence Sexual Assault) incidents as they were the largest and most vulnerable cohort affected. During the period  3,120 DVSA incidents were cancelled.

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Some 45% of those calls are still under investigation, while 10% have been contacted by gardaí. Of those contacted, gardaí said no adverse impact on victims had been found so far.

A garda spokesperson said it was still too early to say how many DVSA cases weren’t handled properly. Likewise, the profile of callers won’t be disclosed until the inquiry is finalised.

Behavioural issues are also being examined as part of the probe as certain gardaí were noted to have a higher volume of cancellations logged than others. 

A garda spokesperson said that victim/caller interaction training has already taken place to reinforce the victim’s perspective. 

Gardaí are in the process of procuring a new €13.5m CAD II system, which will be provided by Saab Technologies UK. It’s expected to be deployed by the end of 2022.

The enquiry is now expected to be a broader and gardaí, as well as the people who called for help, will be interviewed.

Harris said he is confident that this can’t happen again as the measures taken since the issue was discovered have “significantly reduced occurrences”. 

Since November, ‘cancelled’ calls on CAD dropped from 14% to 5% after 1 November when changes were initially made.

With reporting by Céimin Burke.

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Adam Daly

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