Super's tech focus on smart policing
A 'cradle to grave' electronic system is about to transform how cases are brought to court as tech smart Garda sets about revolutionising the force. David Looby reports
A new electronic system handling cases 'from the cradle to the grave' is being rolled out in Co Wexford over the coming months by new chief superintendent Denis Ferry who has a background in technology systems.
Chief Supt Ferry started duty in Co Wexford on August 12 and three months in he is excited about changes that are occurring within the force.
Having joined An Garda Siochána joined in 1994, based in Fitzgibbon Street, he moved to Pearse Street Station for almost three years. 'At the time they were working on PULSE and IT systems. In 1997 I transferred into IT section headquarters because I had a degree in Computer Science before I joined the job so they were looking for people who were tech savvy. I spent almost 15 years there going to the rank of sergeant, inspector and super and I went to six years as a super in IT operation and security looking after all the garda systems, EU systems and security systems.'
Supt Ferry worked on preparations for the problems Y2K was to bring. 'I was working with old technology, the mainframes. It was a huge project in itself bringing the system up to date. Work on designing it had probably started in around 1995. It was 1999 before they launched it ahead of Y2K. There were other projects like the immigration systems, fingerprint systems, other security systems including with the EU. I chaired the Schengen technical working group and Schengen 2 went live during our presidency. That was interesting as well as doing the day job.'
Chief Supt Ferry said technology is a critical part of policing today. 'I think with all of the work we are doing, including simplifying the processes and reducing the paperwork, it is a big challenge - while also leveraging technology in areas of mobility so people can be more flexible and more mobile.'
He was involved in the Strategic Transformation Office established in 2015 doing the garda modernisation programme.
'From 2008 to 2015 there were those challenges economically when austerity which prohibited that. We dedicated ourselves to progressing a lot of the projects we didn't do over the previous decade so I was involved in the Investigation Management Systems which is coming to Wexford at the end of the year. That will be a system that will handle investigations from cradle to grave. You will have your Pulse incident and that will be managed through a proper investigation management system. So those systems have been worked on for the last two or three years, along with IT and the operational members to get up and running.'
Chief Supt Ferry said: 'A lot of it is coming from recommendations over the years that we didn't have a system that properly managed end-to-end investigations so it meets legal obligations - an electronic file going all the way to court. We need the courts systems to align and we will need some legislative procedural changes whereby electronic records will be accepted. Even now PULSE garda system information is being sent through to courts. Investigation management will bring that to the next level. You will have an electronic file and all of the actions will be recorded on that system so every investigation will be done to that system. On promotion now I am here in Wexford now it's putting a lot of that theory into practise.'
Describing his role as being about front-line policing, he said: 'It's about making sure the job is being done and providing that leadership where the job is being done and allowing people to do their job. Part of that is looking at resources in different locations and where resources should be placed. Whether it's equipment, our vehicle fleet or technology, it's all of those things and it's about how you can influence or guide matters.'
With over 320 staff, Chief Supt Ferry says there are no more opportunities than ever before for gardaí to develop their careers.
'Everyone accepts that since Templemore recruitment has started it has many benefits, not just getting extra probation guards in. It also increases the opportunity for people to move on whether that's through promotion or lateral movement in top specialist sections or other areas of work so the benefit of new recruits is not just more people, it's about giving opportunities to other people in other stations whether they are in New Ross or Wexford, whether that's in community policing or in the drugs squad. Not everyone is interested in proportion but everyone wants a change of scene. That's great for morale.'
He said gardaí will increasingly be working across divisions and regions. 'There will be close cooperation with the national units so when operations are happening people will be in contact with local divisions. The implementation of this will be key.'
Specialist units look likely to be spread to stations across the district.
Chief Supt Ferry said the trend has been that crime across most categories has been going down, cautioning that we are heading into a time of year when burglaries increase.
'Community alert groups who are working well need to be interacting with us. Among the challenges are travelling criminals using the motorway and dual carriageway.'
He said gardaí are well placed within Wexford communities to feed information back to management about crime.
'I've met all of the management team and I've met a lot of the people within Wexford and Enniscorthy and Gorey. I look forward to getting out to visit the other stations which I'll do over the coming months. There is a great can do attitude here. It's great to see gardaí living in the community who are heavily involved in the GAA clubs and in the other organisations around the county. You only have to look around to speak to someone who can give you the background about what is happening in local communities which is really important for community policing is really important to maintain in the highest level.'
In his first month he attended a Joint Policing Committee meeting which gave him an insight into some crime issues within the county.
'We had a very positive meeting and lots of things were raised. I met the chairperson Michael Whelan and the county manager Tom Enright. I feel there is trust in the gardaí. When you look at the attitude survey we are getting between 86 and 90 per cent satisfaction. There are obviously recommendations and various commentary we need to address as an organisation. It is about the communities we serve and about the policing.'
He said a large number of new recruits have started working in Co Wexford over recent years.
'Our training for our new members is at a high standard. When you look at international policing it's recognised as a really high standard of training. With the new approach they are working alongside and are being assisted by experienced members. When incidents happen it's important that supports are there from their colleagues and we have introduced a welfare support, employee assistance 24/7 service . That was something that was lacking. It's about ensuring members see it as a positive to use that as I think it's important when you are dealing with traumatic incidents. It's very hard to train people for every eventuality. There have been fatal traffic accidents or serious incidents or assault or murder and they are things there is a good model there for supporting members who are involved in it and that 24 hour system is very important that they are using that. That is there for their benefit in the weeks and months after an incident where we ensure they are supported and have that level of support.'
Increasing the visibility of gardaí with the community is among the top priorities for the new chief superintendent.
'We must ensure our members have the time to get out there pro-actively and to engage with the community groups who are there while maintaining that level of front-line policing that we need as we will be measured as to how we respond to those incidents and measure up to those incidents. At the moment we are measuring up really well on that and it's maintaining that level of performance is what we need to be sure of and we look at the attitude survey we need to ensure we are maintaining that level of confidence.'
During austerity people weren't able to get the benefit of new recruits and systems, he said.
'We have to ensure there is a police presence there at the right time of the day. Not at 3 a.m. but there has to be a presence or a response. I think the job has been done really well here. There has been a consistency around Wexford for a number of years. John Roche did a great job, as did Paddy McMenamin. I look forward to continuing the work that is there but you always have to look at the new challenges and at feedback from certain areas or groups that hasn't been addressed then you have to take on board how do you address and improve that.
'We also have to look at the number of incidents, have they increase or reduced. The number of patrols, have they increased or reduced and what is the impact of that.'
An operation called Knotweed targeting burglars has proven successful, he said. 'It was as a response to an increase in burglaries in the area so we are looking at a burglary task force being set up we are looking at using the crossover units to create some more checkpoint activity. During one evening five or six houses were targeted in an area. How do we respond to that and can we put something in to prevent it.'
He said Knotweed is to circumvent people that might be coming through the area for the purposes of crime. 'Even within a few weeks we have seen that has had an impact. We won't keep it going indefinitely if it's not achieving results. We don't let something run forever if it's not working.
He welcomed the new direction in policing under Garda Commissioner Drew Harris. 'He is implementing what has been documented by the Garda Inspectorate in the past and the Future Policing Commission. I think it's not new what we have talked about before but he is bringing his experience from what he is seeing. It's positive as we now have a direction in where we are going and we have to get into the detail of how we go about it and it's all about measuring how it works.'