Wednesday, 2 May 2012
Topical Issue Debate
Earlier this week the Central Statistics Office, CSO, released the most up-to-date crime statistics for the period 2006 to 2010. These statistics contained some positive news. For example, the detection rate for drug offences stood at 90%, for murder at 83% and for weapons and explosive offences at 90%. This is good news and reflects the excellent work done by members of An Garda Síochána. The one glaring exception to these high detection rates was in the area of burglary and related offences. Of the 25,377 incidents of burglary recorded in 2010, only one in four was detected by the Garda. Moreover, only one in 12, or 2,000 cases, led to a conviction. This issue is of particular interest to me as a Dublin Deputy with the Dublin metropolitan region accounting for over 40% of all incidents of burglary, with Dublin South-Central showing the highest per capita figures with 1,261 burglaries per 100,000 people.
It is important to consider several points about the nature of burglaries. Most instances occur in private family homes. For many people, burglary is the only form of crime which they will ever directly encounter. It is also one of the most intrusive and invasive forms of crime. It can be most distressing and disturbing for the families affected. Most colleagues will agree that it often changes people's perception of their own home, sometimes forever. The impact of burglaries on the victims must not be underestimated.
Burglary can be considered an opportunistic crime, often committed by people starting out in crime. The CSO statistics reflect this with a large number of convictions of young men in particular. Fear of being caught is the only real deterrent to this problem. With only one in four cases detected and only one in 12 leading to a conviction, the fear of being caught is far smaller for burglary than other crimes. The key to apprehending burglars and creating a real deterrent is to ensure adequate forensic work is carried out. Unfortunately, in many instances this vital work is not carried out. I know this from many cases of burglary in my area and this is further borne out by these statistics. Forensic work is the foundation of detection. It secures the evidence necessary to bring people to court and to secure a conviction. Without it, the entire investigative effort collapses. People, both criminals and victims, are aware that adequate forensic work is not carried out in many instances. This further reduces the deterrent for criminals, increases instances of burglary and leads to statistics such as those released this week.
Gardaí often fail to pay sufficient attention to patterns of burglary. Clear evidence and patterns arise in the commission of burglary. Consistencies can emerge in the techniques used by the individuals involved as well as the homes they target, how they travel and how they dispose of stolen goods. Unfortunately, not enough knowledge is gained from studying these patterns. This needs to be changed to raise detection rates.
I am taking this matter on behalf of the Minister for Justice and Equality who has had to attend the Seanad. He welcomes this opportunity to comment on recently published crime figures.
The crime statistics overview published this week by the CSO relates to the period 2006 to 2010 and includes a range of additional information not included in previous releases. These figures cover the period in office of the past two Fianna Fáil-led Governments. The most recent crime figures relate to 2011, which were published by the CSO on 30 March last. These most recent statistics show a decrease in most types of crime during 2011, including homicide, assault, criminal damage, drug and public order offences. Taken together, this overall decrease represents a substantial achievement for law enforcement and crime prevention.
The Minister is concerned at the increase in the number of burglaries reflected in the latest CSO figures and welcomes the fact that An Garda Síochána is responding effectively to this development. In so far as the specific question of detection rates is concerned, the most recent CSO analysis shows a detection rate for burglary in the region of 25% for 2010. It is important to note detection rates vary according to the nature of the crime which is in line with international experience. Detection rates are often found to be lower for certain offences such as burglaries and some other property crimes as these generally only come to light after the event and after the offender has left the scene. These offences are inherently more difficult to investigate than some others. While our statistical system is not directly comparable with that of other countries such as the UK, for example, the difficulties presented in detecting burglaries are reflected in the fact that the detection rate for burglaries in England and Wales in 2010-2011 was recorded as 13%.
Notwithstanding the investigative challenges presented, however, the Garda is responding effectively. The Deputy will be aware the Garda Commissioner has recently announced the introduction of a wide range of measures aimed at tackling gangs involved in burglaries. This operation, Operation Fiacla, is particularly focused on identifying and targeting mobile gangs involved in burglaries throughout the country so as to disrupt their activities and bring them before the courts. Operation Fiacla is intelligence-driven and specific burglary initiatives have been implemented in each Garda region in support of this operation to target suspect offenders, disrupt their activities and secure their attendance before the courts. These initiatives will optimise the use of existing structures and local Garda management will ensure all personnel, community policing units, local traffic forces, regional support and other specialised units are fully briefed on the initiative, with divisional crime management teams playing a key role in co-ordinating implementation.
Prevention is also a key component in tackling burglary and the national crime prevention unit, NCPU, and crime prevention officers at divisional level provide advice, information and support to organisations, businesses and individuals aimed at reducing burglary crime and the opportunity to commit burglary. These specially trained officers are skilled at identifying environmental design risks and advise on ways to reduce opportunities to commit burglary and other property crime. The NCPU has designed a number of crime prevention advice leaflets, including advice on home security and burglary prevention through a step-by-step checklist. These leaflets and the checklist are available on the Garda website.
Today the Garda Commissioner is launching the national Garda Supporting Safer Communities Campaign. This important campaign will highlight a range of key issues, in particular burglary prevention. The primary objective of this campaign is to engage with and raise awareness within communities of initiatives aimed at preventing crime, reducing the fear of crime and promoting community safety. In addition to the campaign being launched today, a further campaign will take place in September. In addition to these community-based initiatives, the "Crime Call" television programme is broadcast once a month to an average audience of 400,000 viewers. Gardaí often utilise the programme to highlight the issue of burglary prevention, as well as particular ongoing investigations. The Government will do everything we can to support the gardaí in their work, provide resources as public finances permit and respond to any legislative needs that are identified. I thank the Deputy for raising the issue.
The key point is that the figures for burglaries have spiralled and detection rates have plummeted. That is very worrying as the people involved seem to feel they will not be apprehended, which comes from the knowledge that very little forensic work is being done at the site of these crimes. I know that from my experience.
I thank the Minister of State for her response. I wonder if the failure to conduct adequate forensic work is a resource issue for An Garda Síochána and if adequate resources are being provided for gardaí to conduct this important work. I doubt that is the case. This form of work should be among the most inexpensive to carry out, and in comparison with other crimes and forms of detection, and taking into account the extensive co-operation which gardaí receive from the community, the cost of this work is relatively low. I ask the Minister of State to ensure that sufficient resources are made available for this most important work so the problems behind the statistics we have seen published this past week can be tackled effectively.
I will be brief. The Minister for Justice and Equality is in regular contact with the Garda Commissioner and is always posing the question of what the Government can do through legislation and resources; depending on what is available, the requests will be met. It is something dear to the Minister's heart, as I am sure the Deputy already knows.
There are actions which will probably have a far greater impact on the reduction in burglaries. For example, Muintir na Tíre has established 1,345 community alert groups, and we all know of the success of neighbourhood watch schemes. Those processes will have a major impact. The Deputy is probably well aware that when either the individuals or gangs involved in burglaries are brought to court, it is usually after a series of burglaries, and forensics only match one burglary with another. When that type of information is held within the organisation, it can be seriously effective.