The public sector hiring freeze is to be temporarily lifted in order to allow for the recruitment of approximately 100 new trainees to An Garda Síochána, the Irish police force. Advertisements were placed in the media last week and information is also available on www.publicjobs.ie This recruitment is necessary in order to keep the numbers of gardaí at what the Minister for Justice and Law Reform (which is his new title as of June 1st 2010), Dermot Ahern, described as “approved levels”. Senior gardaí, along with other senior employees within the public sector, have recently retired, and continue to retire, in significant numbers in order to avoid changes to their pension entitlements which are forthcoming. In 2009, for example, roughly 800 members of An Garda Síochána took early retirement.
This mass exodus from the upper ranks of An Garda Síochána is cause for some concern. While another exception to the current embargo on public sector promotions has been allowed within An Garda Síochána to fill the senior positions vacated, it is still the case that with the retiring senior members of the force goes a wealth of experience and intelligence which could never be clearly expressed or captured within the Pulse information system or directly passed on to more junior members. The worry is that the government’s interest in lowering the public sector pay bill may impact negatively on its efforts to control crime.
And what of those coming into the system? Conor Lally in the Irish Times reported that the incoming recruits will be given full garda powers after a shorter period of time than was previously the case. This change in training methodology is a result of the recommendations included in the Garda Síochána Training and Development Review Group Report of June 2009.
Although other reports into Garda training had been carried out in the past, this Report was the first of its breadth and remit since the inception of An Garda Síochána. The Committee that created the Report included persons with particular academic expertise in education, civil servants from the Departments of Finance and Justice, persons with private industry experience in human resources, and of course senior members of An Garda Síochána. The Group was chaired by Pat McLoughlin, formerly of the Health Service Executive.
Probationer, or trainee, gardaí undertake a 2 year BA in Policing Studies, which in the past was delivered in a 5-phased manner consisting of some time in the Garda College in Templemore, and some time in the Garda Station. Under that structure, probationer gardaí were not given garda powers, or “attested as members of An Garda Síóchána”, until they had completed 58 weeks of training. The new structure of delivering probationer training will see them gain full garda powers after just 30 weeks training. Rather than the previous 5 phases, the programme will from now on be delivered in 3 phases as set out below:
Phase I: 30 weeks at the Garda College in Templemore, followed by 2 weeks annual leave. Following this phase probationers will be ”attested” as members of An Garda Síochana.
Phase II: 63 weeks in an operational setting, with 2 weeks annual leave. The Report recommended that during this phase students should “undergo three stages of supported experiential development in a nominated training station with full police powers.”
Phase III: 2 weeks of exam preparation conducted at station level; 1 week of examinations at regional examination centres; 2 weeks annual leave (which allows time for corrections); 2 weeks in the Garda College, during which probationers will prepare for graduation and undergo some final assessments to ensure uniformity of academic standards.
The Report noted that there are different models of police training in existence throughout other jurisdictions. In the UK and US models, the focus is on practical training following a brief period of basic skills training, while the Continental European approach is more closely tied to degree-level education. The new training regime appears to aim for a compromise position between the two.
There has been little academic research on garda training in this jurisdiction, but perhaps the new training regime will give rise to new research opportunities. It is important sometimes to step back from the academic and legal issues in the criminal justice system in order to consider the personnel involved, how they have gotten there, how they were trained and so on. It should be noted, however, that no matter how good probationer training may be under this new approach, the loss at the top of the structure is still likely to be deeply felt.