Figures give lie to notion of high crime during recession


ANALYSIS:ANY ASTUTE observer of crime in recent years will have been struck by the steady reduction in crime levels across almost all categories since the recession began in 2007-2008.

While the received wisdom is that crime levels rise in recession, official figures from the Garda compiled and published by the Central Statistics Office clearly give the lie to this assumption.

Last year, the number of burglaries increased by 8 per cent nationally. Some other crimes such as fraud and theft offences also rose.

However, several serious categories of crime are down: sexual offences, public order, drug crime and gun crime. The biggest reason is simple – money, or the lack of it.

A very high proportion of public disorder cases, sexual offences and fatalities occur when one or all of the parties involved are drunk. With people’s disposable incomes having been hit by unemployment, Government levies and pay cuts, heavy drinking in public is down.

Garda sources say they are not surprised levels of crimes traditionally associated with alcohol use have fallen off in recent years, as people have had less money to spend socialising.

A similar though slightly more complex situation is at play in the area of gun and drug crime. Garda sources say the majority of people who use drugs do so recreationally, and are able to stop or cut down if and when they need to.

They believe most of the decrease in drug offences since 2008 is attributable to recreational users stopping or cutting back because their incomes can no longer fund such drug-taking.

“People who were going out spending anywhere between €80 and €200 on cocaine every weekend just don’t have that kind of money any more,” said one source. “It means far fewer people are carrying drugs around when they are out partying, so we are catching far fewer people with drugs on them for their own use.”

Another Garda source says: “Because the demand for drugs has dropped, the activities of the main gangs have been massively scaled back, so there are few major seizures being made; there are fewer drug-dealing crimes being detected because the level of drugs being dealt is way down.”

The same source said because gun crime was so clearly linked to drug gangs, it was to be “completely expected” that gun crime would fall as drug crime reduces.

“The real intensity is gone out of the drugs rivalries now because the stakes are so much smaller.”

Other sources say they believe the introduction of anti-gangland laws by the last government, which created a new offence of participating in a gang, has led to a number of gang members moving abroad.“Some of them probably want to see how the first few cases go and they are keeping the head down and going abroad until a few cases go through the courts,” said one source.”

Some gardaí believe the murder of key criminal figures has reduced the level of gun crime, especially gun murders, in some areas. Some criminals who ordered a large number of killings are now dead themselves.

They include Finglas gang leader Eamon Dunne (34), who was shot dead in a Cabra pub in 2010, and Michael Kelly (30), the Baldoyle man shot outside an apartment block in Coolock last September.