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Visiting Fulbright scholar to UL conducts comprehensive study of An Garda Siochana

Pictured at the Glucksman Library in University of Limerick are Shane Kilcommins, Head of School of Law, UL, Professor Stephen A. Morreale, Professor and Department Chair - Criminal Justice Department, Worcester State University and Dr Johnny Connolly, School of Law, UL Picture: Oisin McHugh/True Media
Wed, 11 Sep 2019

A US academic and former police officer has stressed the importance of community policing and adequately resourcing An Garda Siochana following an in-depth study that included hundreds of interviews with serving members of the force.

Professor Stephen Morreale of Worcester State University in Massachusetts, a collaborating academic with University of Limerick through the Fulbright Program, conducted a nine-week tour of garda stations throughout Ireland this summer.

In an address at UL, ‘Lessons for Leading – Implications for Policy and Organisations: Comparing Government Reports on Policing in Ireland and the US’, Prof Morreale explained how he had analysed the Irish policing system, comparing it with that of his home country.

Prof Morreale, who had a 35-year career in law enforcement with stints as a federal agent and in the US Army Military Police Corps, is now chair of the Criminal Justice Department at Worcester State University.

Establishing links with the School of Law at UL and the Garda Training College through the Fulbright Specialist teaching programme, Prof Morreale presented his report at a seminar in UL recently.

He said that his time in Ireland had offered him the opportunity to bring his background in both policing and academia to bear on the research.

“I have witnessed great work by gardai. This flows from patrol to investigations, to roads and community policing, from Special Tactics and Operations Command to the Criminal Assets Bureau, to the Continuous Professional Development unit, to Garda HQ and the Garda Inspectorate,” Prof Morreale explained.

“I’ve interacted with a number of garda leaders and frontline gardai. I have had the opportunity to speak with a great number of gardai from Dublin, Dingle, Cork, Limerick, Tralee, Waterford, Tullamore, Killaloe and Clifden,” he added.

Prof Morreale revealed that he found the men and women of An Garda Siochana (AGS) to be open, responsive, caring and compassionate, “if not frustrated”.

After speaking with garda representatives at Commissioner, Assistant Commissioner, Chief Superintendent, Superintendent, Inspector and Sergeant level plus Probationary Officers and Garda students, Prof Morreale said “it became clear An Garda Siochana is a proud organization”.

“It is well respected by the people of Ireland. But it is not without its blemishes,” he explained.

“Community policing is only possible if well-resourced. Areas where all assigned gardai are on the frontline are generally tied up responding and documenting calls for service. This gives minimal opportunities to visit schools, engage in youth projects or meet with seniors or community leaders,” he explained.

“Changes start with ideas, the ideas of people, many from the ground level. If seeds are planted, not all will grow, but some will. We need to unleash creativity and intellect of staff. The police organisation tends to instinctively develop problem solvers. The organisation should allow and seek problem identifiers, who are not afraid to report concerns or possible issues in the agency.

“As in all organisations there are areas for improvement. These areas are ripe for engaging the organisation to tackle the difficult issues and develop solutions.

“Policing and leadership is about people and relationships. We must remember that people are our most valuable asset. In the US, it is called ‘human capital’. Clearly, our greatest expense is for personnel and they are a precious commodity. Knowing them, counselling them, coaching them and helping them develop and be successful and an asset is imperative to the success of any organization.

“Leadership is about helping to develop people and help them work towards making better judgments and decisions. Leaders have to both manage and lead. They have to adjust and have to facilitate change. They do not have to have all of the answers but have a responsibility to listen and share, pass along ideas and concerns and to address what they can,” he added.

Police leaders in America and Ireland alike struggle with ensuring exceptional performance, proper use of resources and police legitimacy and transparency, Prof Morreale said.

“Over the years, there has been a focus on problem-oriented policing, evidence and data-based policing, intelligence-led policing and predictive policing. Each of these represent an attempt to improve the use of limited resources and meet the needs of the community,” he outlined.

Following the recommendations made in the recent Future of Policing report, Prof Morreale said that many of the principles were actionable if supported with funding and infrastructure, but AGS “must be careful of change fatigue or change paralysis. Change fatigue can happen when multiple projects are being implemented simultaneously”.

“Many of the projects are IT based and place tremendous stress on members in the field. In particular, supervisors have to manage the never-ending audit and response requirements. This can detract frontline officers from being on the frontline,” Prof Morreale said.

Clear and regular communication is essential, as is providing a clear understanding of the roadmap.

“An Garda Siochana should focus on their core mission, avoid mission creep and be relieved of non-core duties that might be transferred to other agencies. This includes immigration, prisoner transport, and prosecution,” he added.

A recent Cultural Climate survey of members of AGS showed many in service felt they were “captives, not champions”.

But Prof Morreale said that “while there were several lower scores by respondents, the mere fact that this survey was deployed is admirable. As with any survey or feedback, what is important to members is what is done with the information. If no action is taken to address the findings, respondents will not respect or support the process in the future.”

Recommendations made by Prof Morreale in his report include that gardai should seek opportunities to co-locate and collaborate with other government offices, as has been successfully done with the Criminal Assets Bureau, as “a true best practice”, he said.

“Issues of mental health, cyber-crime, domestic violence and youthful offenders are rising. The Garda cannot solve problems independently. They need to enhance or create new partnerships to help manage the many issues they encounter in the cities, towns and neighbourhoods,” Prof Morreale said.

In one particular interaction with a serving garda member, Prof Morreale said he had commented to them that it seemed the ship “was turning, but slowly”.

“Their response was ‘Yes, the ship is turning, but big ships turn slowly to avoid them capsizing. No need for life jackets just yet’”.

Professor Morreale presented his report ahead of the launch of the 2020-2021 Fulbright Irish Awards at a seminar organised by UL School of Law held in the A & L Goodbody Moot Appeal Court.

The Fulbright Program provides opportunities for students, scholars, artists, teachers, and professionals from all backgrounds to undertake programs and collaborate with experts in the USA.

The application deadline is 4pm, October 31, 2019. To learn more about the Fulbright Awards visit www.fulbright.ie.