RURAL communities are fighting back against travelling crime gangs – and cutting local crime rates – by using a text alert service to warn neighbours and help the gardai.
Pilot schemes are being operated in selected areas and a review of the results will determine if they should be rolled out on a nationwide basis.
Initial feedback indicates that the alerts combined with targeted garda patrolling is pushing down the crime rate in isolated areas.
Contributors to the text alerts must be registered with the gardai and the system is carefully monitored to prevent anybody creating panic among residents because of exaggerated claims.
The text alerts are set up within the well-established community alert schemes and run by a committee, which remains in regular contact with a community garda.
Each member of the committee holds a master phone for a period of up to two months and determines if alert messages should be sent out to contributors in co-operation with the gardai.
Some of the pilots are based in mid-Louth, where the main rural crimes are burglaries and metal theft.
The initial scheme was set up in the Reaghstown/Aclint area in April 2010 and works with community garda Dave O'Sullivan, from Ardee station.
Senior district officer Supt Ray Brennan says it has 210 members and says its success has led to the setting up of similar schemes in adjoining areas such as Churchtown, Stabannon, Ballybailie and Kilcroney.
"Apart from maintaining regular contact between the community and the gardai, the service also heightens awareness of the benefits of being a good neighbour," he says.
Between the five schemes, around a thousand locals are involved.
Malachy O'Sullivan, a founder member and former chairman of the committee in the Brookfield and district residents association on the Louth-Meath border, says crime in his area has dropped from one offence a week to one every six months.