Eoghan Dalton Reports
The statistical drop in crime across the Waterford Garda Division, as relayed to City & County Councillors last week, was greeted somewhat sceptically by members in the wake of the breathalyser controversy.
The biggest drop, which members of the Joint Policing Committee (JPC) were informed of in Dungarvan last week, came in public order offences, with the rate almost half of that recorded in 2010.
This corresponds to the overall trend, where there’s been a drop of a third in the amount of reported crimes of any type – from roughly 3,000 in 2011 to just over 1,900 for 2017.
Property crimes also experienced a significant decrease, dropping by 20 per cent since last year.
Chief Superintendent Padraig Dunne told the JPC that the decline is partly attributable to the text alert system now in place in many rural communities. “It’s actually a very good detective tool for us,” he stated. “There’s been excellent buy-in from communities.”
However, it was also noted that despite the long-term plunge in public order offences, there was actually a minor increase since January: where there were 681 such offences in total last year, as of and up to November 13th, there had been 702 such detections.
This can be mainly put down to the Waterford city district, where public order offences jumped by about 15 per cent. Meanwhile in Tramore, such incidents had dropped by a third.
Chief Supt Pádraig Dunne put the rise in the city down to an improving economy, stating: “It’s something we’d expect to see, it moves with affluence and the way the economy goes.”
This reasoning may also account for drug possession charges rising by a quarter since last year. Similarly, crimes of assault rose by 20 percent across the county in 2017.
Chief Superintendent Dunne told the JPC there is an emphasis on preventive measures by Waterford Gardaí to prevent public order offences from developing into criminal assaults.
In total there have been 2,116 arrests and 544 vehicle seizures in 2017. Padraig Dunne was especially pleased with the overall decrease in crime, saying it “doesn’t happen without a lot of work by An Garda Síochána and help from the community.”
However, seeds of doubt were discussed by JPC members, with Cllr Joe Kelly Joe Kelly (Ind) raising doubts over the veracity of the figures. He feels that as long as the false breathalyser controversy continues to dog the force, that many people will find it hard to place faith in the organisation: “It’s been said to me many times…It undermines public confidence…People will be sceptical.”
In response the Garda chief admitted there is a problem. “We haven’t been featured well over the years. We have eight oversight bodies now and that’s quite right. Thank you for the question [Cllr Kelly], it had to be raised.”
Several other councillors indicated the figures are not telling the whole story, with Labour’s John Pratt and Sinn Féin’s John Hearne saying there are many in their communities who are afraid to come forward to report crimes.
Elsewhere, Fianna Fáil’s Jason Murphy took the figures at face value, noting the detection rate for burglary is 19 per cent, stating “That means 81 per cent are getting away with it.”
Cllr Murphy also asked for recent reports of so-called paedophile hunters in Waterford to be addressed, saying such cases may increase and a “vacuum will grow with the advent of social media.”
Dungarvan Superintendent Mick Lacey replied to the Waterford City South councillor: “We are a statutory body. I couldn’t support the idea of vigilantes, people need to pass on the information to the Guards.”
However there was unanimous praise for Gardaí in relation to the force’s operations during Halloween. This led to Waterford District Superintendent Chris Delaney criticising “elements” of the Waterford media over reporting of certain Garda operations.
“Coverage from elements of local media undermines a lot of the work done,” he stated. “There was only one arrest and there was a massive amount of preventive work done. Our strategy is to target low level public order issues before they lead to serious assaults. ”
Chief Supt Dunne also appealed for parents to take a stronger interest in their teenagers’ social lives.
“We’re not a babysitting service – there are limits to what we can do with juveniles,” he said. “Parents need to ask their children what they’re getting up to after they’ve been dropped off into the city centre, often they are getting dropped in after consuming alcohol,” he said.
To address this, Chief Sup Dunne will launch a safe socialising course for Transition Year students early next year, a programme he ran in Kilkenny prior to coming to the Waterford Garda force.
All Waterford policing figures discussed at the JPC accounted for up to and including Monday, November 13th.