Canceled Garda 999 calls: Abuse allegation should have been investigated urgently, review finds

An independent report on emergency calls has found that an allegation of sexual abuse against a child and their parents “should be urgently investigated and not dismissed”.

Last year it emerged that over a 22-month period between 2019 and 2020, thousands of calls were improperly closed, including those reporting violence against women and children.

The Police Department commissioned a report to investigate the circumstances and responses to the cancellation of Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD) incidents.

In his preliminary update last November, author Derek Penman made 13 recommendations, including that gardaí should develop conversation-recording strategies for local broadcasters.

A final update was released today, noting that overall callers met established standards, but that there were “significant call handling deficiencies” in several incidents.

The findings are scheduled to be discussed at a police department meeting with Garda Commissioner Drew Harris this afternoon.

Mr. Penman reviewed 83 example cases from a “serious cohort” that could potentially lead to serious risks and 120 randomly selected incidents.

He noted that no serious harm was directly identified in the analyzed samples, but added that in cases where the victims were not identified, this could not be established.

The expert found cases where callers did not have sufficient skills or did not take the time to assess the vulnerability of calls, particularly when there were language barriers, impairments or intoxication.

There have been instances where a service could not be provided, with the result that protection orders may not be issued, crimes may not be investigated and offenders may escape justice.

In one reviewed case, a confidential third party provided real-time information from a child that their parent was a victim of ongoing sexual abuse. It was also revealed that the child had been abused by the same perpetrator.

Gardaí were dispatched immediately – but it turned out the address was wrong and investigators were unable to identify the child or parent.

The third party’s call had not been held open and there was no opportunity to contact them again. The incident was shut down and no further investigation was conducted.

Mr Penman said that “despite the fact that this may have been a sham call, the seriousness of the allegations and the potential vulnerability of the child and parents should have ensured that this CAD incident was not cancelled, but was subject to an urgent investigation”.

He said it was “not possible to identify a victim, their parents or a possible perpetrator and therefore impossible to determine if a crime took place or if the victim(s) were injured”.

In another sample reviewed, a witness reported aggravated alleged sexual assault, but the caller did not provide his contact details and he was not kept on the line to provide potentially valuable information.

When Gardaí responded, they were unable to locate the crime scene or the victim, and were unable to follow up the caller.

The alleged victim never came forward to make a report and Mr Penman noted there was no way to determine if a crime had taken place or if a victim was injured.

In his final report, he found that there was “very limited” evidence of oversight controls, despite policies and procedures in place that should have been designed to identify unjustly canceled incidents.

He also noted that the aging CAD system and other legacy technology “suggests a chronic lack of investment,” but added that the technology cannot be considered a significant factor in call cancellations.

Mr Penman said Gardaí should complete the CAD review and undertake no further retrospective analysis. Instead, the force should focus its resources on improving current call-handling arrangements.

The expert also recommended that until the Policing and Community Safety Agency (PCSA) is created, there should be an agreed framework to facilitate independent interception of calls and incident investigations by the agency.

The agency’s chairman, Bob Collins, said the 999 service is a “crucial public service” that people rely on in a moment of crisis.

“It is important that the Garda Síochána address the underlying issues identified in this report — issues such as oversight, selection processes for specific roles, and performance management — so that the public can continue to have the confidence they need to have in the event of an emergency of 999 calls.” Join the service and you will be assured that you are getting the quality of service you deserve from your police service,” he said.

“The agency will continue to monitor this area regularly and closely.” Canceled Garda 999 calls: Abuse allegation should have been investigated urgently, review finds

Fry Electronics Team

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