Irish Rural Link chief calls for radical change in community policing

The CEO of Irish Rural Link has called for a radical change in community policing, following what he described as the recent “heinous” attack on an Offaly farmer when a gang of four men forced their way into his home at Glassderry Beg, Brosna, beating him and his dog, before locking the farmer in a shed.

Seamus Boland, of Moate-based Irish Rural Link, said the attack on Richard McKelvey – the second break-in to his home within six weeks – was the type of rural crime feared by thousands of people living alone in rural Ireland. It required considerable resources to prevent, he said.

“The fact that it happened in an area with a Community Alert programme and an active police presence demonstrates the ability of these criminals to attack vulnerable people without being interrupted.

The modern criminal has at their disposal social media, fast cars and an ability to acquire local knowledge. Unfortunately, even if it was possible for Gardai to be stationed at every crossroad, it is no guarantee that this type of crime could be prevented.

“We propose that the various Community Alert and Neighbourhood Watch programmes be augmented to allow them to work at a higher partnership with the police force. We are also proposing that, in every policing divisional area, there is a regionally-based policing and security committee established.

“The committee would meet with the superintendent to consider security risks in that divisional area and assist and advise the superintendent on the deployment of resources. It would have the power to make recommendations to the Gardai, that would allow resources to be deployed in areas most in need. The elevation of Neighbourhood Watch programmes would also increase the ability to collect greater intelligence in terms of movements of criminals in various localities,” he contended.

Modern criminals must be dealt with modern policing methods, which include proper community policing principles. Otherwise we risk more of the type of incidence similar to the most recent case.

“Our response in recent years has contributed to a lessening incidence of this crime. This despite the huge curtailments in terms of resources and the rather bizarre way in which rural Garda stations have been closed,” he said.

Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) representative Jer Bergin said he was approaching the issue from the perspective of what could be done to take away the fear. He said the best thing that could be done was to take the culprits out of the system.

He pointed to the jailing of a rural crime gang last year that had been involved in stealing farm machinery and equipment. It is believed that the criminal group had been operating out of a base in Co. Laois, and had been involved in over 100 burglaries in the midlands last year.

The IFA spokesperson called for consecutive rather than concurrent sentencing for repeat offenders. “Otherwise it is just not fair on rural people, particularly when the crimes are violent,” he said.

He welcomed the new round of funding for community-based CCTV cameras but called for what he described as issues with the slowness of the process involved, to be resolved.

Bergin said farmers would also have to stop dealing with traders unless they were certain they were legitimate. “They have to stop being customers of people they don’t know,” he said.

Marking of property such as the IFA’s TheftStop initiative, is vital, Bergin said. “Gardai recover a lot of stolen property that they are unable to return to owners because it isn’t marked. Owners of stolen property also need to be able to prove that it was stolen.”

Bergin said that having more Gardai who knew their communities on patrol, and co-operation among local people, would help remove the fear and make it difficult for criminal gangs to operate.

Recently, the Laois/Offaly crime prevention officer, Sergeant Graham Kavanagh, appealed to people to stop posting checkpoint locations and using Viber and Whatsapp groups and other social media to disclose Garda checkpoint locations. He said they were unwittingly aiding and abetting travelling criminals.