Tuesday 12 December 2017

Was I burgled because of a lack of garda resources?

Living in a 'black spot' for break-ins leaves Joanna Kiernan Googling 'legal weapons'

Joanna Kiernan holding the brick which was used to break into her home
Joanna Kiernan holding the brick which was used to break into her home
Joanna Kiernan

Joanna Kiernan

I used to balk at the Americanised term 'home invasion' for what seemed like a rather hyperbolic response to a little old break-in, but that really is how it feels to have some stranger force their way into your home and rifle through your life. I have since learned the hard way.

Having all that you have worked for; everything you own, sized up for what is worth their while taking; what they can carry or what they can sell, is a humbling and horrible experience.

When the initial anger passes, you become very philosophical. You may even contemplate the benefits of subscribing to communism and not owning anything ever again, if only to rid yourself of those last flashes of frustration.

Thankfully, when thieves broke into my home the weekend before last, they did not get away with much; they were obviously either looking for instant and untraceable stuff or they were disturbed. I am attempting to ignore the latter scenario for the sake of my own sanity.

They took jars of change, some gifts we had received for our engagement; not really that much. Nobody was hurt, so why can't I sleep? Why can't I stop imagining this glove-wearing stranger (or strangers) smashing the glass in our bathroom window and climbing in through it? Why am I, over a week later, still locking every door in the house behind me - just in case - and bringing my handbag, keys and phone with me to the bathroom?

You always hear about burglaries happening to other people, you commiserate, you shoot the breeze, you ask what was taken; all the while secretly hoping to god that it never happens to you.

Those who have experienced it never tell you what happens next. They never tell you that your imagination will run rife in the days which follow, that your rational self will completely abandon you or that you will become an amateur detective and attempt to solve the crime yourself.

You may - if you are anything like me - even find yourself Googling whether there are any 'legal weapons' with which you can equip yourself for the next time out. (For the record there does not seem to be any, so I have instead re-acquainted myself with the exact location of all the sharp objects around my house.)

They don't tell you that you become a worse person for it, that everyone is a suspect; the women who asked for directions, the Jehovah's Witnesses who called the next day, that odd-looking delivery man.

I used to think I was quite brave, but the feeling of helplessness after a break-in, makes one acutely aware of how vulnerable you and everyone you love really are. We were lucky, of course. No one was hurt, no one was at home, but the 'what ifs' are still curdling in my stomach.

I could not speak more highly of the prompt and helpful response we received from the gardai who dealt with our case. Yet with no witnesses or finger prints to go on, ours will simply join the long list of burglaries now happening in Kildare on a daily basis and in many counties around Ireland.

I wish it were that simple though. This was not some opportunistic youth, out to cause devilment, ours was one of a number of homes around Kildare pinpointed by these thugs, who waited for their window (pardon the pun) and then dutifully pounced.

With the lowest levels of gardai per capita in the country, Kildare is now a black spot for home invasions; they are happening in broad daylight, they are happening while residents are alseep in their homes, they are happening right under our noses and the thieves have no fear of being caught.

It is no secret that the Gardai Siochana are under-resourced and under-staffed. There is a huge disparity in the policing levels around Ireland, with some counties having twice as many gardai per capita as others, a fact that criminals are all too aware of. And so certain counties, like Kildare, are being openly targeted.

The two are inextricably linked; several of those counties with the lowest crime rates just so happen to have the highest concentration of gardai, while the lesser-staffed counties like Kildare, Kilkenny and Meath have much higher levels of crime.

Figures released late last year, showed that there were an average of 24.5 gardai per 10,000 people across Ireland in 2013. In Kildare that figure stood at 15 gardai per 10,000 people and has since worsened.

A fifth of Ireland's garda barracks have disappeared over the past three years, with the complete closure of 140. Many others - mostly in rural areas - have been left without a dedicated garda assigned to the station. These are the same rural areas where criminals rightly suspect that residents will have some cash at least, in their homes. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to work out why Kildare is fast becoming something of a gravy train for thieves.

As a response to this some clever folk have created the Kildare Crime Alerts and Prevention Facebook page, a sort of online community-watch iniative, which invites followers to get in touch with information on any suspicious or criminal activity in their area - after they call the gardai of course.

But despite the rise in general awareness across the county we can do very little to protect ourselves. The fact that the thieves who sifted through my wardrobe, my clothes, my underwear, my notebooks, my jewellery; that person who stood on my bed with mucky boots and turned my bedroom upside down could return at any time, is beyond unnverving.

I will, it appears, be bringing all of my worldly possessions to the loo for the foreseeable future at least. I have contemplated booby-trapping my house in a similar vein to Macaulay Culkin's Home Alone character Kevin, but realistically that would probably give the thieves cause to sue me. So maybe I should just leave out a key for them the next time.

Irish Independent

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