How marking your property can slash rural crime rates

The average loss to a farmer who is the victim of theft is over €4,000 - but new Eircode-based tool will 'instil fear into criminals'

Deterrent: James O'Neill of Property Marking insists that his product reduces rural crime
Deterrent: James O'Neill of Property Marking insists that his product reduces rural crime

Margaret Donnelly

Fencer chargers, chainsaws and construction tools are the most stolen items in rural Ireland.

According to James O'Neill, of Property Marking Ireland, these light, easy to steal and easy to re-sell items are costing farmers thousands every year.

However, a simple new community-led crime prevention initiative, which has been introduced in Ireland, could help stem the rate of thefts from rural communities.

The average loss to a farmer, who is the victim of such crime, is €4,329 according to the Agricultural Crime in Ireland report.

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The simple programme involves marking property with the owner's Eircode number and displaying a sticker on the premises to show that household's or businesses participation in the programme.

Property Marking, which is running the programme in conjunction with the county-based Joint Policing Committees, is already established in 12 local authorities after an initial launch in Cork.

James, development manager with the programme, says the initiative has worked extremely well where implemented.

"Rural Ireland's demographic is an aging one, with 33pc of the population 65 or over in rural areas," he says.

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The theft of farm equipment has risen by more than 40pc in recent times, figures show.

"My background is in crime prevention and the people in this community in Cork wanted to know how they could protect their property," he says.

"Eircode was happening at the time and I thought it could be very relevant for marking property.

"With that in mind I started with those invisible pens, but thought maybe there is something else out there. At the meeting, a North Yorkshire retired constable, who was living in west Cork, told me they were designing a property marking machine that would allow for an Eircode to be put on the item, without damaging it."

This machine, which is now being made available around the country, puts in tiny little dots, which make up the Eircode number.

"They can mark most things, from a mobile phone to a cattle trailer, so it really suits people in rural areas who may have a lot of items of value," says James.

The dents are visible to everyone, he explains, including potential thieves.

"Yes you can spot it and you can hack it out. But why would you want to hack out your own Eircode off your own ride-on-lawnmower?

"The markings are overt, but not hugely noticeable. In the last two years 14,000 bikes have been stolen in Ireland. If there is no mark on it, it's easy sell it on. Its simplicity is why it has great potential."

The other aspect of the property marking is that signs are put up in communities and on entrances to warn that the property has been marked.

The project has had few tales of success in the traditional sense: as in, no stolen machinery or equipment has turned up in far-flung places, traced and returned to its rightful owners through the Eircode.

In fact, the main measure of its success is the reduction in thefts from areas that have implemented the programme.

"What we have achieved is a reduced level of property theft, a reduced fear of crime and strengthened the relationship between the gardaí and communities," says James. "We launched first in west Cork and in 2015 and they went out and funded €4,500 to purchase a machine for their area. The big challenge they had was high-value boating equipment, as it's easy steal.

"Since then, around Schull, Goleen or Ballydehob, the signs are in the piers. I think they have had one fuel can and one outboard engine stolen since then."

The programme, according to James, also shows the common sense of communities.

After west Cork, the programme ran a pilot in Monaghan two years ago.

"I had worked closely with a member of the gardaí on the text alert programme and we needed another pilot before we could roll it out nationwide and he helped set it up," he says.

"Again, we organised to buy a machine and a year later when the chief superintendent gave crime stats there was a dramatic reduction in the crime rate in Monaghan."

Community alert groups, James says, have helped drive the programme around the country, as they already have an established presence.

Agenda

"A community alert group is able to get it on the agenda of the next Joint Policing Committee - there is one in every local authority - and that helps move things along to get the marking machine made available to a community," he says.

"If they endorse it, they find the funds for the local authority and it's delivered to us, and we go to them for training of officials first, three or four, as well as some local gardaí.

"It's vital they know how the programme works.

"The local authority will then announce they have the machine and they send forward some people from the area - one with a construction background, one from farming and a regular person - then they know the lie of the land with equipment, be it construction or farming, and we will have 18 people able to deliver the programme in the parish."

Five items are free for marking and then it's €2/marking for businesses including farms. This can help fund the cost of the machine and the insurance costs.

"We don't get each group to mark everything first time around. If they mark property in 30-40 households and erect the signs, it instils fear into criminals."

However, James says when there is a 'herd inoculation' figure with over 50pc of all households participating, areas can expect a real impact.

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