Farmers urged to put energy into protecting one another

Farmers and rural dwellers should work together to watch out for each other. That’s the key message of the newly-appointed Crime Prevention Officer for Laois and Offaly, Sergeant Graham Kavanagh.

“The farming community is one of the most vibrant and active groupings we have in Ireland, and it is very good at lobbying to get what it needs.

“Let’s turn that energy around and protect each other,” said Kavanagh, a Dubliner who previously worked in the capital and in Tullamore, Co. Offaly, before taking up this new appointment.

The falling away of the ‘rambling’ tradition in rural areas and the reliance on social media has resulted, in many cases, in people being less involved in their neighbours’ lives, he said.

However, as someone who lives in a rural area near Clonaslee, he makes a conscious effort to keep an eye on his neighbours’ property and livestock.

Constantly checking in on elderly neighbours; monitoring unusual occurrences in the locality; reporting any suspicious activity; joining Community Alert; and subscribing to text alerts, can all have a big impact on crime prevention, he said.

“Taking a number of simple steps can help reduce crime on farms. One is recording serial numbers of machinery and equipment, and also photographing it.

One of the biggest problems we have is trying to reunite stolen property with its owners, so our advice to people is to take ownership of your property and security.

“The Irish Farmers’ Association’s  (IFA) ‘Theft Stop’ system – where people register their name and are provided with a unique reference number – is underused. That seems to be because of the effort of going online rather than the fee.

“The IFA provides a stencil kit but people can also do their own markings. For example, their Eircode could be put underneath their trailer, so if it is stolen, that can be quoted when reporting the theft,” he said.

“Use of ‘Theft Stop’ is overt but people need to be more covert in the use of their Eircode. If it is too easily found, a criminal can track the property back to where it was stolen, possibly creating more issues for owners.”

More Preventative measures

Farmers and homeowners should take a strategic approach to crime prevention, Kavanagh said. This could include simple steps such as closing gates.

“While a lot of farmers feel that getting on and off their tractor slows them down – and I have heard stories of gates being cut down – anything that makes it more difficult for an intruder to get in and get out quickly will act as a deterrent.”

In cases where farmers have leased their land, they should not leave any equipment on it for longer than necessary, he said. “Bring it back to the farmyard and lock it in a secure shed.

“That might mean investing a small amount, but farmers have been cleaned out of thousands of euro worth of equipment because they didn’t have a locked shed. Good LED lighting is also worth the investment.

“It must also be remembered that a determined criminal will try their best to overcome any security initiatives – our job together is to make it as difficult as possible,” said the Crime Prevention Officer.

A lot of farmers have off-farm jobs now, so it is a matter of slowing down before they leave the farm, and remembering that if they leave their yards cluttered with machinery and equipment, it will attract thieves.

Livestock theft is another headache for farmers. “Sheep, in particular, have been stolen quite a lot. Cattle are easier to count and manage, but farmers have got to remember that this is their income.

“A jeweller wouldn’t leave their jewellery unattended on the street. Asking people who live close by to keep an eye on stock can help.”

CCTV is a tool that can be used to deter criminals, but it won’t stop the really determined ones, he said.

“The best approach is communication among the people living in the area. They know who doesn’t belong there, and they should use the 999 number to report anything suspicious. A good dog can also put potential intruders off.”

Always report a crime

People offering goods and services door-to-door while checking out the surroundings are a cause of concern, but they wouldn’t continue to do so unless there was a demand, he said.

“If they come into your yard, you should not engage with them, and if they persist, you should contact your nearest Garda station. When reading a vehicle registration, concentrate on remembering the digits after the county.”

Motorway access has led to increased thefts in some counties, he said. “Again, prevention is about getting to know your neighbours, patching up any differences with them, and working together for the greater good.”

Under-reporting of incidents is a concern, Kavanagh added. “Just because the incident has been reported to the Garda doesn’t mean that we will inform the farmers’ insurance company – that is up to the farmer to do.

“In some cases people just can’t be bothered to report the incident; in other cases they don’t think anything will be done if they do report it.

“However, not reporting crime affects the allocation of resources. It’s very hard to police an area if it appears that nothing is happening in it. We encourage people to report everything.”

Resisting force

Violent crime is the cause of anxiety for many rural dwellers, particularly those living in isolated areas. However, Kavanagh said it is not the norm.

While homeowners are allowed to defend themselves when under attack, within reason, by restraining the intruder, and then calling Gardai, it isn’t something I would encourage as you don’t know who is with them.

“There has been talk of farmers sleeping with shotguns under the bed, but the reality is that farmers going out to confront trespassers don’t know what they are going to be faced with.

“Criminals won’t kick up a big racket when going onto a property and so many things can go wrong. Most thieves by their nature are sneaks. They want to get in and out with as little fuss as possible and without detection.

“I certainly wouldn’t encourage people to discharge firearms. Anyone recklessly discharging a firearm is breaking the law. They have to remember what they got their firearms licence for – and it’s not for tackling criminals.

“All you can do in that situation is to ring 999. Older people in particular can be reluctant to do that, but that is what they should. No Garda will delay in getting to a homeowner in such a situation.

“A lot of older people can be fiercely independent and set in their ways. However, neighbours need to keep a constant eye on them, even if that person can be cantankerous towards them.”

Safety in numbers

While the lack of Gardai on the ground has been a cause for serious concern in recent years, the Laois and Offaly Crime Prevention Officer said recruitment has started to increase – resulting in Gardai being allocated to rural stations.

“During the recession, Garda numbers dropped and that had a knock-on effect in rural areas, but with the recommencement of recruitment, people are starting to see members of the force on the ground again.

People will tell you that they previously personally knew all the Gardai in the area whereas they don’t know any of them now, but that will change.

“We are unique in Ireland in that every community has a Garda living in it. When we go home, we are still always watching out for people. The vast majority of Gardai are from rural Ireland and we all care about the communities we police. We are part of those communities.”