Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Questions (36)

Lisa Chambers


36. Deputy Lisa Chambers asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality if recorded crime statistics for County Mayo are an accurate reflection of the reality of crime in the area; if all Garda stations in County Mayo have access to the PULSE system; if not, the details of the stations without access; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [34727/16]

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Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Justice)

Can people in Mayo have confidence that the recorded crime statistics for the area are an accurate reflection of the reality of crime in the area? Do all Garda stations in Mayo have access to the PULSE system and, if not, will the Minister provide details of the stations that do not have access and make a statement on the matter?

Crime statistics are compiled by the Central Statistics Office, CSO, based on PULSE data and the statistics for Mayo Garda division reflect all crime incidents recorded by An Garda Síochána for that area. In the most recent CSO figures, for the second quarter of 2016, there were decreases in many crime categories. This reflects the success of the concerted Garda drive against crime being implemented under Operation Thor. In Mayo Garda division, the figures show a reduction in burglary of 22%. That will be welcomed by everybody.

We have had the two reviews of the statistics and the Deputy will have heard the points I made earlier in that regard, so I will not repeat them. When looking at the CSO statistics and raising questions about them, it is important that people also look at the victimisation survey, which reflected decreases as well. That is carried out directly by the CSO with victims. It is a community survey and it is important to reflect on that.

The Deputy will be aware that most crime incidents are recorded via the Garda information services centre, GISC, based in Castlebar. This provides a round-the-clock service which enables gardaí to phone in details of a crime incident, and specially trained staff in GISC facilitate its correct recording and classification on PULSE. As a result, a lack of access to PULSE in a particular Garda station should not prevent the accurate recording of crime data. In fact, the latest information from the Garda authorities is that 92% of crime incidents are recorded via GISC, with the balance being recorded by gardaí directly on PULSE.

Some of the issues raised by the Garda Inspectorate regarding crime statistics concerned the need for procedures to ensure that the recording of crimes through GISC is maximised, because obviously there are issues in that regard as well. An Garda Síochána has introduced new measures in recent times to improve data quality, including a new incident recording process. This, together with important upgrades of the PULSE system during 2015, is supporting the improvement of Garda crime data as well as procedures for the supervision of investigations. The supervision of investigations is an important element in ensuring that crimes are recorded properly and that new recruits are supervised.

I am glad the Tánaiste mentioned the Garda Inspectorate and its report on the recording of crime data. She will be aware that the Garda Inspectorate was quite scathing in its analysis of how crime was recorded. The latest figures show that one fifth of all crime is not properly recorded on PULSE. The Garda Inspectorate has published 11 reports in the past nine years. There were almost 600 recommendations. Most of them were accepted but many were not implemented. The question was posed to the Minister as to why the changes were not made sooner and why the 2014 report had to be so scathing. The Garda Inspectorate says it found serious failures in recording classification and reclassification of crimes. I asked if the people of Mayo can rely on the CSO figures. The Tánaiste says they are the figures as recorded, and I accept that, but the difficulty or concern people have is whether crimes are being recorded properly and thoroughly. The Tánaiste says new measures have been put in place. Are those measures effective and has the Tánaiste carried out an analysis or conducted an investigation of their effectiveness? The Garda Commissioner gave a commitment to reform how officers record crime. Has the Tánaiste spoken to her about that? What efforts has the Garda Commissioner made to do this and has she reported back to the Tánaiste on same?

The CSO is investigating that. After the first Garda Inspectorate report relating to crime statistics was published, I met with the CSO and discussed this issue because I was concerned about it. The good news is that it did it again the following year and reported that there were improvements. On the Deputy's question about monitoring, this is being monitored by the CSO and it has been able to say that the crime statistics should be published. That is important because their publication was suspended for a number of months while the CSO did its survey and carried out the work in this regard. When the Garda Inspectorate reported, it made many recommendations. Over 1,000 recommendations have come from the Garda Inspectorate and clearly the Garda Commissioner must respond to them.

However, we also have an independent Policing Authority and it has an oversight role regarding the implementation of the various recommendations. It meets with the Garda on a regular basis about the recommendations relating to improving the work the Garda Síochána does and to ensure various issues are identified in terms of the resources it needs. That work is now being done by an independent body outside of the Government, which is what this House wanted. It is important that we respect the work being done there as well.

That does not answer the question I asked. The Tánaiste mentioned that new measures are being implemented to ensure that the Garda information services centre operates effectively. I asked what those measures were and if that is being monitored. It might be of interest to the Tánaiste and her Department that there was a meeting in September of the Castlebar municipal district council which was attended by the local superintendent and chief superintendent. While they said that overall crime was down, they were concerned that the incidence of drug possession was up by 106% in the constituency. Interestingly, the meeting was told by the superintendent and chief superintendent that the number of drug searches had increased in that period. The increase in the number of searches had led to an increase in detection and, therefore, the increase of 106% in possession offences. This shows that increased policing leads to increased detection and prosecutions. There is a direct correlation, so if there is less policing and fewer resources there will be less detection.

I also wish to highlight my serious concern about the increase in the number of sexual offences recorded in the constituency. It has increased by 46% over a two year period, which is a worrying figure. What will the Tánaiste and her Department do to tackle this increasing incidence of sexual offences not just in County Mayo but at national level?

Following the Garda Inspectorate report on crime investigation, the Garda Commissioner established a strategic transformation team to oversee work to implement a broad range of recommendations. They are being implemented and that is being correlated by the work of the CSO. That is my point. Initiatives were taken to improve the statistics and it is clear from the CSO report that there are improvements. There is still work to be done. It will not happen overnight. However, we have an independent body, the CSO, monitoring the statistics and continuing to report on their reliability. I reiterate that the reliability of crime statistics is an international and complex issue. We must do all we can to ensure and enhance the integrity of crime statistics because it is an important public confidence measure. I totally accept that point.

Question No. 37 replied to with Written Answers.