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Cost must not be the only factor for change

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Garda: File photo

Garda: File photo

Garda: File photo

THE proposed overhaul of policing across the State is being drawn up against a background of falling crime rates, with last year the lowest in a decade.

But an Irish Independent analysis of the statistics underlines how the dramatic population shift over the past half century has hugely influenced these crime rates.

In many rural areas, garda stations, that were once a hive of activity in the local community, are now almost redundant in terms of investigating crime.

Crime levels in more than one third of all garda stations are so low that they are recording less than one offence per week.

But statistics never tell the full story. And this is particularly so in terms of policing.

The presence of a garda station in a small rural area is more than a deterrent to criminals. It provides a "comfort blanket" for home owners, who all come to know officers on first name terms, and this relationship can help to alleviate fears as well as acting as a source of intelligence.

There can be no argument against the decision to shut some stations in recent years as many were already effectively shut.

But any policy aimed at further wholesale station closures will inevitably backfire and leave gardai in a position where their involvement in the community is minimal.

National polls consistently show that the garda force enjoys a relationship with the community that is the envy of police organisations elsewhere in Europe and across the globe.

But there are now concerns that the financial cutbacks of the five past years, resulting in a substantial decrease in the strength of the force, will feed into people's perceptions that their quality of life has worsened because of crime fears.

Any fresh changes that are driven by financial motives will dramatically alter that relationship - and the Government must ensure that whatever measures are tabled are not fuelled solely by a desire to cut costs.

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