Thursday 16 August 2018

Calls for crime prevention ambassadors to be rolled out nationwide

Sgt Lionel Mullally
Sgt Lionel Mullally

Ken Foy

A national organisation that provides key support to older people is strongly recommending that a hugely successful garda initiative be rolled out across the country.

The award winning “crime prevention ambassador” programme has provide huge reassurance to vulnerable older people particularly those living in isolation and in certain cases an increase in garda patrols in their locality.

Catherine McGuigan, the younger sister of boxing hero Barry McGuigan is the national programme lead of Age Friendly Ireland and she told independent.ie that her organisation would “welcome” if the initiative would be used by every garda division.

It was set up in Co Longford in November, 2016, by community policing Sgt Lionel Mullally as a programme to deliver crime prevention information shared among older people within that community.

Catherine McGuigan, the national programme lead of Age Friendly Ireland
Catherine McGuigan, the national programme lead of Age Friendly Ireland

“The purpose of the initiative is to tackle crimes against older people and address the fear of isolation among older people,” Sgt Mullally said.

“It has two main functions and these are to tackle the fear of crime and help with the prevention of crime and this has led an increased garda presence in communities because we are able to get the feed back from people,” he explained.

Sgt Mullally was previously instrumental in setting up a text alert scheme which led to a major reduction in burglaries in the garda division.

Key to the success of the separate “crime prevention ambassador” is the fact that volunteers were sought from a number of different older people’s networks and organisations for the role of “crime ambassador” within their own communities.

Volunteers were then asked to work in groups of two to provide material and questionnaires and engage at least 10 other older people in the locality.

This enabled the local community policing unit to be given key information about the concerns local older people had about crime.

In total a dedicated team of 25 older people were appointed as “crime prevention ambassadors” in Co Longford and these people have acted as a major point of contact between gardai and hundreds of other people in the areas.

The information received by gardai informed new crime prevention guidelines for officers and has led to a more focused use of garda resources.

“The project is designed to empower older persons within the community by working in partnership with gardai through local community gardai and crime prevention officers,” Sgt Mullally pointed out.

He explained that the “crime prevention officers” deal with older people on behalf of gardai and have identified the main concerns of the OAP’s which include burglary gangs and youths engaged in anti-social behaviour.

Among the major succesess of the programme in recent months is the removal of 120 stray dogs from one particularly troubled estate in Longford town as well as a co-ordinated effort during last year’s Storm Ophelia to make sure that older people were safe in their homes by calling to the properties.

Gardai have also utilised specialist speakers to discuss issues such as cyber crime and bogus callers to concerned older residents.

Officers have also approved a special fridge magnet idea in which a magnet is placed on a fridge with contact details of family members so that first responders such as ambulance personnel and fire brigade staff can know who they need to call in the event of an emergency at an older person’s home.

Catherine McGuigan of Age Friendly Ireland has described the ambassador programme as “wonderful” and says that one of its main benefits is that it reassures older people.

“A key thing that we have noticed is the participation of older people in this initiative has had a very positive impact on people who had anxiety and concerns about crime in the area they live in.

“It is important to note that the perception of crime can often be worse than the reality of what is going on so the fact that practical advice is being handed out is very beneficial.

“There is in fact a triple dividend to this – it is a benefit to the person receiving advice and speaking of their concerns, it is a benefit to the volunteer and it is a benefit to the gardai. It helps everyone,” Ms McGuigan said.

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