Gardaí leaving GPS radios behind amid ‘big brother’ fears

Frontline gardaí concerned devices being used to micromanage them and that gangs may get data

Gardaí are leaving their radios behind when going on duty to prevent senior management from keeping tabs on them, a study has found.

The research, commissioned by the Garda Representative Association (GRA) and the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors (AGSI), found many frontline gardaí did not trust senior management not to abuse the GPS function on their radios to keep track of them improperly.

Since 2007, gardaí have been using Tetra digital radio systems, which replaced the old analogue devices. The latest version of the radios features GPS tracking with allows management to assign resources and quickly respond to gardaí in emergency situations.

However, the survey conducted by Dr Cliona McParland, assistant professor in global strategy at Dublin City University, found many gardaí believed management were using the GPS function to micromanage them, which was having a negative impact on morale.


Gardaí who took part in the study also expressed concerns that criminal gangs may be gaining access to the GPS data.

Many gardaí are aware the Tetra radios are encrypted but remained concerned about outsiders accessing the data. “At least 75 per cent of the sample are concerned that [the data] still could be accessed externally and there wasn’t enough been done to make sure that this wasn’t happening,” Dr McParland told the GRA’s annual conference this week.

A total of 1,808 gardaí took part in the survey, with a response rate of 23 per cent. Eighty five per cent of those surveyed said they were concerned GPS information could be used for purposes other than resource-allocation, and health and safety.

More than 80 per cent said they were uneasy about having no control over how management used the GPS data. There was a belief among many gardaí that management could access their locations at all times, even when they were off-duty.

“They’re constantly monitoring where you are, what you’re doing. It’s becoming a tool to micromanage and supervise people that are just going about doing their jobs,” one garda told the study.

“It’s a big brother watching you,” said another.

“If the wrong person had access to this information, a bully or whatnot, that can make a very uncomfortable working environment,” another garda said.

Just under 65 per cent said they were concerned that their radios were collecting too much personal data and 54 per cent said this was causing them anxiety.

Dr McParland said these anxieties were causing gardaí to engage in “counterproductive behaviours”. She described incidents of gardaí purposely leaving their radios behind before going on duty, turning the radios off or removing the aerial from the radio “to try to regain some level of control over their own personal information”.

“Do I need to tell control I’m going to visit an old lady because she’s lonely? No, but I feel like if they don’t know where I am they will just be hounding,” one garda said.

Others complained that they cannot stop for a cup of coffee while on a night shift or go on lunch a few minutes early without being reprimanded by their superiors.

The use of location-monitoring was “negatively impacting” the relationship between An Garda Síochána and its employees, Dr McParland said, by eroding trust, discouraging autonomy and causing employee stress.

Fifty seven per cent of gardaí believed location-monitoring reduced their ability to show initiative while a similar figure believed it compromised their ability to do their jobs.

Location-monitoring is a demoralising factor, according to 64 per cent of respondents, while 48 per cent said it made them feel weak and powerless. Eighty one per cent said it showed management did not trust them to do their jobs.

More generally, the study found 67 per cent of gardaí “simply did not trust senior management” and 83 per cent said management was not always honest with them.

Sixty four per cent said senior management did not act with high integrity towards members.

It is a regular complaint at GRA conferences that garda morale is low. This year, outgoing president Frank Thornton said it would be an understatement to say morale was poor within the force. Last year, 90 people resigned from the Garda rather than wait until retirement, he said, with another 25 doing the same this year. This is up from 70 resignations in 2020 and just 41 in 2017.

There were also repeated complaints at the length of time gardaí accused of wrongdoing have to remain on suspension pending investigation. There are currently 91 gardaí out on suspension, including a small number who have been suspended for between five and eight years.

Garda Commissioner Drew Harris said the Garda was “in a very strong place” and that he did not believe morale was poor within the organisation.

“I’m in stations constantly throughout the country and that is not my observation. I meet people in neighbourhood policing, in major crime investigation and in specialist units, and all of them have a real can-do, positive attitude about their work and they see the difference they are making,” Mr Harris told reporters. “So I do reject the claim that morale is at an all-time low.”

An Garda Síochána has been asked for a response to the concerns raised.

*This article was amended at 14.38 on Sunday, May 29th, 2022

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher is Crime and Security Correspondent of The Irish Times