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'There's two of them in it; Don't annoy him; Let him sleep it off': Gardaí on domestic violence

The Garda Inspectorate does not paint a good picture of how gardaí deal with incidents.

Image: Assault via Shutterstock

THE MAJOR REPORT into how gardaí investigate crimes looked at how some victims feel they were treated during the process.

The Inspectorate found that most officers provide an excellent service but that there is a problem with consistency across the force.

Interim Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan said she was aware that some victims had felt let down by the gardaí.

“I want to reassure all victims of crime that we will support them, take their complaints seriously, and that all complaints will be investigated,” she said in a statement this evening.

The first contact can often be the most important to ensure this happens, according to the report.

Speaking specifically about domestic violence, Robert Olson, Chief Inspector of the Garda Síochána said, “The whole issue of domestic violence needs to be thoroughly reviewed.

“We had about 11,000 domestic violence incidents and there were only 287 cases where somebody got arrested. That needs to be looked at very closely, we’re concerned about that.”

First Impressions

The report finds that the initial interaction between a garda and a victim is vital – and can lead to the victim helping in the investigation or not.

The Inspectorate concluded that people reporting property crimes were “far more positive” than if the offence was an assault or a domestic violence case. In the latter, gardaí were described as not empathetic and, even, disinterested.

This same view was also expressed by many organisations representing the interests of such victims. Staff at a women’s refuge explained that the service provided to victims of domestic violence varied according to the attitude of the attending garda and frequently the approach was one of disinterest or aimed at limiting garda involvement in investigating further.

Inappropriate comments made by gardaí were reported by some victims of domestic violence, including:

  • ‘There’s two of them in it’
  • ‘Just don’t annoy him and he won’t come back’
  • ‘Let him sleep it off’.

Case Study 1

According to the Inspectorate report, “Most officers always provide an excellent service to victims, but a small minority of officers consistently provide a poor level of service.”

It said that across all police services, some young and inexperienced officers find it “very challenging to deal with victims and suspects in emotionally charged situations”.

Despite this knowledge, the Inspectorate said it found “little or no evidence” of spot checks by supervisors on how officers were dealing with certain crime scenes. Although, in August 2014, gardaí began a process of procuring a Public Attitudes Survey, which may help to gather information from victims of crime about the way that their case was managed.

Phone calls are better

Gardaí have been told by the Inspectorate that the letter they initially send to victims needs to be reviewed to be more empathetic.

Currently, victims believe it is a computer-generated, impersonal letter.

The majority of victims receive this first letter, which details the crime and the PULSE reference number, but some regions have better compliance rates than others.

In the third quarter of last year, just 59% of victims in the Kildare division received the first letter, while in Dublin, the compliance rate was 100%.

A second letter – sent when an offender is identified and the case has progressed – was not understood by many victims as it states “a person has been made amenable”.

According to the Inspectorate, “most victims spoken to did not understand what this term actually meant and had to contact the investigating garda to establish what had actually happened”.

It has recommended more phone calls are made to victims at key points in the investigation, such as the arrest, charge or bail of a suspect, as well as any court appearances. It has also pointed to other jurisdictions where IT systems are used with in-built reminders to call victims.

Case Study 2

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Following up

One of the biggest complaints by victims was a frustration over the lack of follow-up contact.

According to the report, victims believed updates on investigations were not adequately provided. They also found it difficult to contact the investigating garda due to changing shifts.

To compound the shift changes, when victims call a station and the investigator is not there, there is usually nobody else willing to help them. Calls are then not returned, they say.

Front-line gardaí and detectives recognise the importance of updating victims, but often struggle to find the time to do so, the report confirmed, citing high workloads as a reason.

Many gardaí also reported that they often have to cancel appointments with victims as a
result of duty changes to their working day.

The current pilot roster further adds to this difficulty, as members are away from work for extended periods of time.

Across the seven divisions, the Inspectorate found an inconsistent approach to updating victims and there was no national standard as to how or when this contact should take place other than the two required victims letters.

The main finding of the report in terms of dealing with victims said, “The Inspectorate believes that the whole approach to victim care and contact by the Garda Síochána needs to be urgently addressed.”

“The Garda Síochána needs to provide a far more consistent level of service for victims of crime and regardless of where a crime occurs in Ireland, a victim should receive the same high level of a consistent service.”

Plans

Gardaí said today that they have already got a number of plans in place to improve how they deal with victims, including the establishment of Victim Services Offices across the country.

The Public Attitude Survey will also track the views of victims of crime and feedback will be used to identify areas of improvement, according to O’Sullivan.

“It is vital that all victims of crime receive a consistently excellent support service from An Garda Síochána. It is the least they can expect at a time of need.”

Inspectorate report raises ‘serious concerns’ about Garda processes and systems

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