An Garda Síochána is dogged by homogenous thinking and has failed to maximise opportunities for reform, a new report says, criticising “a desire for consistency that has resulted in rigidity at the sacrifice of exploration”.
Management has failed to “test the limits” of what can be achieved with new structures, according to the sixth report of the Policing Authority, issued on 10 September.
The report is critical of the “over-elaboration” of community hubs, which it says threaten efficiencies and appear to mirror the old-style district model, thus thwarting the Government’s planned reforms.
The goal of specialised or functional hubs is to achieve higher and more consistent levels of service to the public, the report explains.
The move to a divisional rather than district model of policing will allocate responsibilities on a functional rather than geographic basis, and is a key plank of Government reform.
Under this model, a superintendent will lead a specific function for an entire division, and will no longer have to deliver a vast array of policing functions in smaller district areas.
While the implementation of the alternative model “appears to be imminent” in four pilot divisions, the report criticises force management for applying the same criteria across both country and city policing.
Management has not tested the “pure” functional model solely in an urban area, where it would be a “good fit”, the report complains.
It also critiques the slow progress of change in the force, with a number of core design elements still to be finalised, including the staff plan that will identify human resource requirements.
The planned crime hub will be rolled out this month (October), while the governance and community engagement hubs should be operational by year-end.
But a 12-month test period means the model cannot be refined and rolled out nationally before 2020. The report also points to a delay in recruiting specialist staff to provide professional services that would support operational policing.
There has also been a refusal by some staff in district offices to relocate, and the reports flags the consequent danger of over-staffing as roles are found for these individuals.
The reporting lines have yet to be established and remain “somewhat contested”, despite an approximate equivalency between garda ranks and civilian grades, the report says.
Meanwhile, roster and duty management systems have not yet been integrated into IT platforms – much of this work is still paper-based, requiring a significant amount of human interaction.
This delay will severely diminish efficiency gains, the report complains, and various projects will have to be retro-fitted to meet requirements, because of a lack of co-ordinated planning.
The authority also criticises “unfinished thinking” and lack of clarity about the relationship between the divisional human resource function and the new Garda HR operating model.
New Garda Commissioner Drew Harris has also been bluntly told by the authority to reboot the force’s industrial relations mechanisms, given that members will soon have access to outside dispute resolution, with the publication of the Industrial Relations (Amendment) Bill 2018.
The authority is demanding “urgent professionalising” of industrial relations and employment rights functions in the force. It points out that, with a planned 4,000 civilian members, there is “ample scope” for appropriate appointments.
The report insists on the early conclusion of draft proposals on the matter.
It also urges use of the title ‘business manager’ for HR, finance and administration functions in the force.
The authority also flags its alarm that both governance and roads policing have been bundled into a single hub by Garda management, despite the risks that have emerged with roads policing in recent years, notably in inflated breathalyser testing figures.
The report notes internal resistance to the suggestion that roads policing could be led by an inspector reporting directly to the chief superintendent. That idea has now been shelved, which the report describes as a “missed opportunity”.
The emptying out of middle management in the force, and its effect on uniformed members, is also a concern for the authority, which notes issues around career development and transparency of role assignment. It says that “the requirement for inspectors and sergeants, and new role descriptions, are critical”.