At its first meeting of the new year, Clare Joint Policing Committee learned that number of crimes committed in 2017 is significantly lower than ten years ago.
Commenting on his annual report for 2017, Chief Superintendent John Kerin noted that most of the main crime categories in Clare showed significant decreases when compared to 2008. The exceptions were sexual offences (+21%), robbery, extortion and hijacking (+35%) and fraud (+26%), which is largely due to increased online activity.
Over the last ten years, public order, theft and related offences have decreased significantly, down by 59% and 34% respectively. CS Kerin believes the decline was mainly due to the economic downturn, however, he warned that figures are beginning to creep up again as the economy improves.
This is borne out by the fact that six of the eleven broad crime categories increased by a total of 104 crimes in 2017, compared to 2016. Sexual offences show one of the largest increases, up by 20% to a recorded total os 54 crimes. Robberies and fraud also increased by 18% and 16% respectively.
Crimes involving weapons and explosives were down by 34% last year as were burglaries, with 53 fewer than last year to 237, representing a decrease of 18%. In addition, the number of controlled drug offences was down by 5% to 323.
A comparison of the years 2017 and 2016 shows a 112% surge in arson attacks, up from 17 to 36. Of these, 12 related to cars, 8 of these cars were bought cheaply and burned out after the crime.
Nine arson cases concerned vacant houses, in three instances combustible materials set fire to front doors in Ennis. Another three related to abandoned mobile homes and caravans, there was also burning of timber pallets and hay bales while papers were burned in the vestibule of a church and a tourist bus was burned out in Lisdoonvarna.
Within the Garda sub-districts in the county, there was no significant change in crime figures for burglary, theft and theft from vehicles in Shannon and Sixmilebridge.
A spate of theft from vehicles in Newmarket-on-Fergus last year has abated with just 8 cases recorded in 2017 compared to 23 in 2016.
Burglaries were one of the main sources of crime nationally in recent years. Gardaí have countered this with Operation Thor, targeting mobile crime gangs accessing the road networks to break into properties in rural areas.
According to CS Kerin, there were 235 burglaries during 2017, of these 71% involved residential properties. The remainder included 9 shops, 7 schools, 5 hotels and 4 creches.
A major cause of frustration for Gardaí is theft from cars. In the first six months of this year, 75% of cars burgled in Kilrush District had been left unlocked, 50% in Ennis.
CS Kerin said one individual who was apprehended told Gardaí he wouldn’t have taken anything only the vehicles were left unlocked. From a Garda perspective, CS Kerin said that it is very disheartening to see so many cars being left unlocked by their owners.
Something else of interest to motorists is that Gardaí are seizing many more vehicles for not displaying tax, insurance and NCT certificates. In 2016, 439 vehicles were seized, this jumped by 108 in 2017 to 547 seizures.
Gardaí are making more use of the PULSE computer system. In 2017 1,102 incidents in Co. Clare were recorded, compared to 1,056 the previous year. Significantly, the number of domestic disputes increased by 157 on last year due to a new system of recording.
In terms of building community relations, Gardaí in Clare held a number of initiatives over the winter including charity fundraising events, rural isolation meetings, tea parties and the Divisional Youth Awards.
Senator Martin Conway welcomed the report saying it contained a lot of positives. He said Gardaí in Clare go above and beyond the call of duty to build relations with local communities, this is reflected in the very encouraging crime figures.
Senator Conway asked whether organisers of large events contribute towards the cost of employing the services of the Gardaí.
Community sector representative, Dermot Hayes, expressed concern at the rise in internet crime including fraud.
Cllr Michael Hillery noted that since 2008 there are 32 fewer Gardaí in Clare, he wanted to know if there will be any new recruits coming into the county.
In his contribution, Cllr Gerry Flynn complimented the recent presentation by Sgt Mulligan and Set. Sgt O’Hagan at the recent Shannon Municipal District meeting. He said the two Gardaí allayed fears in the community following allegations of anti-social behaviour.
Cllr Paul Murphy also commended Gardaí for intervening in an attack on the home of an elderly neighbour in Tiermaclane at the start of the year. Four Limerick men were charged with burglary. “It was good to see the lads foil this burglary, it really boosted confidence in my community,” said Cllr Murphy.
Responding to comments from Senator Conway, CS Kerin said organisers of Fleadh Cheoil na Éireann contributed 20% the cost of policing the event. The only other contributions were from Clare GAA for policing of games at Cusack Park.
While acknowledging that large events place an extra financial burden, CS Kerin said the Gardaí would never want to see a festival or event cancelled because of budgetary considerations.
Senator Conway said organisers of large events should shoulder some of the cost. Specifically, he referenced traffic management at the Cliffs of Moher and suggested that Gardaí enter into negotiations with Clare County Council in this regard.
CS Kerin said an additional 17 Gardaí were allocated to the Clare Division in 2017. Also, 25 probationary Gardaí were allocated to the county since recruitment recommenced and 5 more will be allocated in March.
To date the only training station in the county to receive probationers was Ennis but Kilrush has now been designated a training station so some recruits will be allocated there.
While more resources are coming on stream, CS Kerin said the reality is that Clare has comparatively low levels of crime. Effectively this means Garda management allocates resources where they are needed most.
An issue which vexes Cllr PJ Ryan is the number of undesirables relocated to his Cratloe area, in particular people moving to Clare as part of the Limerick Regeneration Plan.
Cllr Ryan believes it is a problem when people with criminal records are relocated and the HSE does not pass on information to local Gardaí.
If a person applies to Clare County Council for housing, Cllr Ryan said there is a Garda vetting process, but no such process when the referral is made by the HSE.
CS Kerin told Cllr Ryan that relocation is a fact of life and there is no obligation on any agency to notify the Gardaí about the movement of people with criminal records.
He said, “We have people from Clare who won’t be too welcome in other counties. With regard to people who have committed serious offences, Gardaí in other areas notify us on an informal basis.”
Cllr Pat McMahon expressed concern with delays caused by the closure of roads due to road traffic accidents. He said this is not just a matter for social houses but also for private properties.
Regarding the closure of roads, CS Kerin said this happens when there is a fatality or a major accident but Gardaí try to ensure a road is closed for as short a time as possible.
He didn’t recall any time when a major road was closed for an excessive period of time in the county.
CS Kerin said there are certain functions that Gardaí are obliged to carry out in the event of a road traffic fatality. These can only be done at the particular time of the accident as it’s not possible to reconstruct the scene afterwards.