Wednesday 22 November 2017

True crime: how the facts don't lie

Damning crime statistics out this week showing a worrying upward trend

A child's bicycle outside the Corcoran home
A child's bicycle outside the Corcoran home
John Meagher

John Meagher

Michele Puckhaber has ­noticed a distinct trend. More and more calls received by her team of volunteers are from people who have experienced the trauma of a violent burglary.

"There has definitely been an increase in the past few years," Puckhaber, the director of the national Crime Victims Helpline, says. "In 2012, the most common reason why someone would make contact with us was if they were assaulted. Now, a greater portion of the calls are from those whose properties have been burgled and we are hearing accounts of very violent burglaries too."

The crime figures bear this out. Burglaries were up by 8.4pc to 28,830 in the 12-month period up to June 2015 according to the latest figures published by the Central Statistics Office (CSO) this week.

Burglary remains one of the biggest crime categories, along with thefts which totalled more than 77,000 in the same period.

There was a 10.4pc increase (to 16,054) in the attempts or threats to murder, assaults, harassments and related offences. Included in those figures were 10,748 assaults.

Sexual offences increased by 3pc and within that rise there was an increase of 7pc in rape to 478 cases. Other sexual assault crimes increased too, by 7pc.

Carjackings and related crimes increased by 28pc to 110 cases and there were 7,392 cars stolen in the period.

Possession of a firearm increased by 21pc to 214 cases which may suggest something of an upsurge in gun crime after a sharp decline since 2008 when the drug trade's declining fortunes mirrored that of the wider economy.

In all, burglaries are up in 16 of the 28 garda divisions nationwide with more than half of those recording increases in excess of 10pc. Incidents of crime were up over a third in Kildare and parts of Dublin. Other areas experiencing a substantial rise in such crimes include Cork city and Wicklow.

Niall Garvey, chairman of nationwide community agency Muintir na Tíre, is not surprised by the findings. "We have over 1,000 community alert groups throughout the country and the statistics reflect what they have been saying to us over the past couple of years. Burglaries have been on the increase, and very significantly so in certain parts of the country."

Garvey says the feeling among the community groups is the increase in the number of violent burglaries is directly related to the closure of rural garda stations, a sentiment echoed by Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin in the Dáil this week. "You got it wrong in terms of the closure of garda stations," Martin told Taoiseach Enda Kenny, "and you are out of touch with rural Ireland and the people on the ground.

"People say they don't see gardaí patrolling their areas and that reinforces the sense that they are isolated and more vulnerable to burglaries."

Garvey also points out that some Muintir groups nationwide believe that those living close to the motorway network - which was significantly extended during the boom years - have felt especially vulnerable to attack. Victims like those in south Tipperary, close to the Cork-Dublin M8 motorway, might be inclined to agree.

"The effects of a burglary, especially violent ones, can be devastating for the people concerned," Michele Puckhaber says. "Their home is their place of refuge and it's very traumatic not just to have it burgled but to be assaulted there too or to see family members being assaulted and to feel powerless to do anything."

Despite the sobering burglary figures, the CSO data did not all make for bad news. There was a marked decline in the number of murders - down by 37pc, from 60 to 38, while the general figure for homicides decreased from 93 to 60.

Elsewhere, the cultivation of drugs and possession of drugs for personal use were down by 19pc and 1pc respectively and there was a decrease in those caught driving under the influence of drugs and drink (by 13pc and 4pc respectively). And public order crime decreased by 5pc, to 32,866 offences.

Meanwhile, the actual number of crimes is thought to be considerably higher than official figures show. In June, the CSO published an audit of garda crime statistics for 2011 and it located 75,000 crimes that had not been recorded, including 6,400 assaults and 5,100 burglaries.

The damning report showed the Garda Síochána had under-reported crime by an average of 18pc, with under-reporting occurring in 12 of the 14 crime categories; murders/manslaughters and kidnappings were the exceptions.

The discrepancies were found when the CSO examined the garda dispatch system - with logs and orders emergency responses - and found that 20pc of calls to it were not recorded on the Garda Pulse system, the database used for crime figures.

In addition, the CSO examined paper records at a sample of garda stations and found that 16pc of crimes were not recorded on Pulse. Furthermore, some 7pc of incidents recorded as non-crimes should have been classified as crimes. They included cases of fraud and assault. It noted that more than half of the non-crime domestic disputes should have been recorded as assaults.

The CSO concluded: "Given the importance of crime statistics, users and the general public need to have confidence in crime statistics and the way they are produced."

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