Action is needed now to tackle the nationwide crime wave
Published 02/10/2015 | 02:30
The recent dramatic upsurge in rural crime was predictable, given the policies pursued by the current Government. The reduction in garda numbers, closure of rural garda stations, restricted garda budgets and a failure to structure the force to meet current policing demands have all contributed in no small way to this sorry state of affairs, where law-abiding rural people who have paid taxes all their lives and contributed to the development of this State are now living in fear.
I live in rural Ireland and crime and the fear of crime are the main topic of conversation. Midwest Radio, the local station, is overwhelmed with calls from listeners with solutions ranging from introducing the birch to forming vigilante groups.
This is symptomatic of a society under threat.
The recent initiatives announced by the authorities in terms of installing CCTV cameras on motorways, the allocation of €100m in garda overtime, significant investment in the garda fleet and the introduction of new legislation to put pressure on repeat offenders, together with a tightening of bail conditions, I suggest, will not make one iota of difference.
And quite a few gardaí I have spoken with are of a similar opinion, for they have heard all this before and perceive it to be spin.
Moreover, the notion espoused that communities working in tandem with the gardaí will reduce and eliminate crime is not a realistic solution.
What chance has the ordinary, untrained person living in rural Ireland of successfully confronting the armed and ruthless criminals roaming the country at will?
According to the Taoiseach, community alert, community awareness and vigilance are the way to combat crime.
These are not a substitute for effective, intelligent and strategic policing. For if a member of the community observes something suspicious and contacts the gardaí, unless there is a rapid, effective and co-ordinated garda response, it is pointless.
In the context of scarce garda resources, liberal bail laws and a shortage of prison accommodation, crime control here is a complex issue. But for everyone's sake, it must be tackled and the following approach should be considered by the authorities.
Firstly, operational garda numbers should be immediately increased by the recruitment and training of substantial numbers of new gardaí.
The announcement of the recuitment of 500 gardaí in 2016 is a futile exercise in the context of 250 members being due to retire.
The remainder will be distributed in the 26 counties, leaving nine per county. Allowing for leave and sick days off, this leaves two per 24-hour period per county. I doubt that this will make a difference and anyone espousing this view is at best foolish and at worst deceitful.
The policy of civilianisation should be fully implemented in order to free up desk-bound, trained members of the force to engage in operational policing.
Secondly, adequate jail space should be provided by building a state-of-the-art prison facility. The current situation of early releases is not conducive to combating crime.
A community-alert meeting I attended recently was informed of cases where convicted criminals were conveyed to Dublin and were home before the gardaí due to the lack of space in the prison.
Thirdly, the long-awaited DNA database should be put in place.
Twenty years ago, most if not all European police forces employed this method with outstanding success. It was mooted here 20 years ago, studies were carried out and volumes written but nothing has been done.
Finally, a zero-tolerance approach to crime should be implemented in that every offence will be dealt with. This is based on the belief that if minor offences go unchallenged or unheeded by garda, they will develop into more serious crime.
In New York, it was found that when low-level crime was thoroughly investigated, it had a profoundly positive effect on the maintenance of law and order.
In the short term, a sophisticated system of checkpoints should be put in place all over the country, manned by uniformed gardaí and armed detectives on a 24-hour basis, backed up by a mobile patrolling system that is centrally controlled. Technology should be utilised to correlate all movements of suspected criminals.
A business begins and ends with its customers. Garda customers are the community and success begins with the professional delivery of a policing service to the community.
Therefore when the community identifies a policing need, it must be delivered. And never has such a need been more clearly identified than the present.
Michael Carty is a retired Chief Superintendent in An Garda Síochána and served overseas as a police adviser in the UN.