Real change starts from within

EDITORIAL: Change is coming to our world; there is a certain inevitability about it. Most of us instinctively fear change as it has a primal element that pulls us from our habits and rituals developed as a means of survival. It is always difficult for all but the most visionary; the gifted few who can imagine what it will be like to look back from a transformed environment. That is the current task facing the members of the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland, to create a vision of a policing model that will meet with the requirements of the people of Ireland for many decades to come.

An Garda Síochána is a relatively large and sophisticated organisation with cultural norms and behaviours that were developed, adapted and evolved to meet the challenges of the first one hundred years of the new Republic. Such incremental growth will not be straightforward to unwind; the resultant challenge is to metamorphose an intricate organisation without becoming something unrecognisable from its heritage or origins – and without losing the many parts that are trusted and relied upon in trauma. Policing is often traumatic, and police officers across the world must survive in an environment that is traumatic for victims and spreads fear across communities. The recent spate of acid attacks in London is a contemporary example of how the public turn immediately to their police to provide physical safety and psychological reassurance.

The kind of changes we envisage arising are wide-ranging, if we base our assumptions upon the terms of reference, to re-imagine a national police service in a changing society and the changing nature of crime.

Changing society is perhaps more obvious to address, but despite the patterns of immigration and current ethnic diversity in our community, this has yet to be appropriately reflected in selection and recruitment processes – and is perhaps a most pressing problem to be addressed. So far, no one in authority has provided an answer as to why there is not a substantial influx of people of colour. Ideally we envisage greater recruitment from the non-Irish nationals who have made Ireland their home alongside more members from the LGBT community and Traveller groups. This has policing benefits as well as societal acceptance; but once again maintains gardaí at the very heart of the community where they can improve service delivery, locally accountable, to meet the needs of the citizen. Recruitment to An Garda Síochána especially from the Black or Asian Minority Ethnic [BAME] community is conspicuous by its absence – albeit there are a few exceptions from other minority ethnic groups. There is currently no member with African or Caribbean origin; this needs to be addressed if An Garda Síochána is to reflect the constituent community of modern Ireland.

Police work is a mixture of diverse functions and objectives; we need a diverse body of people to cover the mixture of unprecedented situations where no training manual or regulations can provide instant effective guidance.

An Garda Síochána provides a catchall security service from counterespionage to border control, from law enforcement to river rescue. To this end, this State has long required a model of optimum numbers, so that no area is under or over resourced. We need contingency in garda numbers, so that when a member is incapacitated by a long-term injury or illness someone is available to take their place in the thin blue line until they return, rather than placing increased workload and stress upon their colleagues. This would also facilitate continual professional development and occupational skills coverage. This will have an immediate operational benefit and would certainly address many of the recommendations from the raft of inquiries and reports awaiting effective implementation.

Garda management’s modernisation and renewal programme must not be allowed to be the only game in town; there are progressive measures suggested by members of Garda rank that are worthy of serious consideration to reverse the declining morale and corporate inefficiencies that fail to incentivise and reward good police work – and these can only enhance the official programme.

The Commission provides a once-in-a-generation opportunity to address the role and function of individual members, the structural issues of the organisation and its operational values; but moreover opens the door to the many legacy issues including the depletion of the regular units and the ever-present requirement to complete an expert analysis of the staffing, resourcing and training levels necessary to implement the anticipated policing service.

The Commission is due to report in September 2018 and has promised to consult widely – including with the Garda Representative Association – a welcome approach that has the potential for positive change.

We have seen repeated instances where An Garda Síochána has been mired in controversy and reputational damage that does not reflect the bravery or dedication in difficult and dangerous situations displayed by our frontline members.

“The Commission on the Future of Policing carries with it the prospect that change might be able to deliver new hope; and a vision to revitalise a beleagured An Garda Síochána.”

For full and in-depth coverage, see the current printed edition of Garda Review.

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