Crime in the Country

As part of a new series on rural crime, Galway Advertiser journalist Caroline Whelan speaks to County Galway crime prevention officer Sergeant Pat FlanaganĀ 

“There is no doubt that people are our biggest resource in both crime prevention and crime detection, and this will always be the case. They are the ones travelling the highroads and byroads of the county every day. Gardai can not be everywhere, we rely on the public to be our eyes and ears. The more support we get from the public, the more crime will reduce.’’

The words of Sergeant Pat Flanagan who acknowledges that at present there are ‘a lot’ of break-ins occurring across the county from Clifden to Gort, Tuam to Tynagh, and everywhere in between. “There are peaks and troughs in relation to rural crime. It is fair to say we are currently experiencing a peak and there is no doubt it is causing alarm. When a burglary happens in an area, it causes major concern and rightly so. Your property being broken into is one of the most traumatic things that could ever happen a person. The idea of a stranger going through personal things and potentially taking items of sentimental value is just awful. Everybody has a right to feel safe within their own home.’’

There is of course much anger and frustration among rural communities about the closure of local Garda stations and there is a perception in some quarters that Gardai are now less visible on the ground and this is playing right into the hands of criminals.

Sergeant Flanagan is unwilling to get involved in the argument about station closures but is keen to stress that there are not less Gardai in rural Ireland. “There was a recruitment embargo within the force during the recession. Thankfully that has now been lifted and there are new entrants to the force once again. There are as many Gardai now as there ever were. I accept where people are coming from regarding station closures but there are arguments for and against it. You could say a garda is better to be out on the ground then in a station anyway. Also there were never patrol cars attached to rural stations. The cars always come from the district offices.’’

One in three robbers gain entry via an open door or window

Whatever about the Gardai being able to assist post-crime, it is the the responsibility of each and every individual to do as much as is humanely possible to protect their property and deter criminals. The age of being able to leave your back door open is over. People may not want to acknowledge this, but the stark fact is that one third of criminals gain entry to a property via an open door or window. It is a basic measure - even when you are in the premises, ensure the front and back doors are locked.

The Galway Advertiser is aware of cases where people are now afraid of leaving their property vacant due to the fear of being robbed. So what can one do to make their home or yard more crime proof. The common thread running through all the upcoming advice from Sergeant Flanagan is be conscious of security - do not be sorry after, everybody is a target, but make life as difficult as possible for the thieves.

“Look at your locks, ensure they are strong enough, if not change them ensuring it is difficult to force the locks on windows and doors. Think who has had keys to your house - workmen etc, if so change the locks. I would recommend that everybody has an alarm nowadays - maybe a guard dog could be a consideration for some? If there is anything you can do to deter criminals do it.’’

Pensioners are encouraged to avail of the grant support which is provided towards the cost of purchasing and installing monitored personal alarms. This scheme is administered by the Department of Environment, Community and Local Government, and is made available through local community and voluntary groups registered with the Department. We have all heard the horror stories about elderly men and women being targeted in their homes in the dead of night. Sergeant Flanagan says he cannot stress enough that people should never ever open their door unless they are expecting a visitor or know who is outside. And what can be done in a case where a robber gains entry to the house? “Use your alarm pendant provided under the state scheme. Have it round your neck in bed or beside your bed. Any alarm that is installed by a private company will also always come with a panic button/pendant/watch.’’

Another tip is to lock internal doors at night. Lock your bedroom door if it gives you more peace of mind, and this is something that can be particularly useful for somebody living alone. A word of warning in that case though - make sure you have an exit plan in the unfortunate case of a fire.

Tools and farm machinery always at risk

Farmers are a constant target for thievery and Sergeant Flanagan has more advice. “The first basic one is to always have the gate into a farmyard closed and locked. Do not make it easy for robbers to just drive round the back and fill their car or van and drive off. It is very important that machinery and tools are properly marked, take pictures of them and record the serial numbers. Lock away work-vans and tools at night. Something I see all the time when I am driving around the county is loads of manure, or trailers, left at the entrance to a farm, or on the side of a road outside a field. Do not do this, ensure they are locked in a shed. Ensure your oil tank is locked. Just be wary, and take 15 minutes every evening before it is dark to secure everything.’’

Another crime that constantly arises in quiet, rural settings is car break-ins. There has been incidents outside GAA pitches, in dressing rooms, and even outside churches. Nowhere is safe from opportunistic criminals. “We have sent out a circular to clubs advising members not to bring money, or valuables, to training or to a match. Hide them at home. If you are attending a wedding, do not leave money in the car. It is the same if you are going for a walk in the woods and park your car, do not leave your handbag in the car, leave it hidden at home. Ensure there is nothing visible to the naked eye - there are always those waiting to pounce. A bit of vigilance will go a long way.’’

He says the Gardai are very thankful for any help they get from members of the public and the more information that is received, the better. “People need to be watchful and phone us if they are in any way suspicious about something they see. If it is a vehicle, the licence plate number is important - but as 80 per cent of the numbers being used by criminals are fake, the make and colour of the vehicle is equally as important. If we enter a plate number into our system which does not match the description of the vehicle given, it immediately raises the warning signals and text alerts are sent to every community in the county. No one person will deter criminals and solve these crimes alone - we need people and agencies working together.’’

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