Sustained drop in crime since last summer, Garda figures show


THE FIRST significant, sustained fall in crime since the late 1980s has been taking place since the end of last summer, according to Garda statistics.

An analysis of crime figures and trends, based on monthly crime returns from every Garda station in the State, shows that the national crime level has fallen by 3 per cent since May of last year.

There has been a continuing drop since last July, indicating that the previous four to five year rise in crime has been turned around.

The most significant downturns in crime have taken place in three of the five Dublin Metropolitan Areas (DMAs). Dublin accounts for 60 per cent, of the State's crime and major decreases recorded in the three DMA divisions outside the city centre have accounted for much of the national decline in crime levels.

Crime levels in DMA divisions East, South and North have fallen between 8 and 17 per cent in the past year.

The two inner city divisions, which recorded significant decreases in crime levels in recent years, cave both experienced increases in the past year, however.

There have been some rises in rural divisions but these are not significant enough to affect the national fall in crime levels.

There are indications crime is rising in the rural Garda divisions surrounding Dublin, the so called "Dublin Rim" area, which is affected by gangs travelling out of the city in stolen cars.

The major areas where crime has fallen have been in burglary and larceny, which always represent the bulk of serious, or indictable offences. There has been no change in levels of sexual assault.

The level of murders has risen but this is said to be insignificant in terms of actual numbers the figure is only three above that for the same period last year. The Republic has probably the lowest homicide rates of any state, according to a study carried out last year by an American criminologist, Dr William Wilbanks of Florida State University.

The reasons for the fall in crime levels is uncertain. However, last week the Garda Commissioner, Mr Patrick Culligan, pointed out that while crime levels had risen by 16 per cent in the five years to 1995, detection rates had far outstripped this with an increase of 37 per cent.

These figures would suggest that Garda arrests may have begun to have an impact on crime levels sometime in the middle of this year, after a prolonged period of rising crime.

There are also other factors that affect crime levels, often unrelated to policing.

Sustained rises in crime are often associated with demographic trends, such as a large population of young people in an area affected by unemployment. The outer suburbs of Dublin have experienced major rises in crime levels since the 1980s, in line with rapid population increases amid high unemployment levels.

It is possible that teenagers who were responsible for the high crime levels have matured and are now married, in work and trying to raise their own families, one garda said.