BY INTERNATIONAL standards Ireland has a relatively low crime rate. Last year saw far fewer homicides and the number of murders decreased by more than one-third. But despite declines in the most serious crimes – involving violent death – other forms of major criminal activity have increased. Robbery, extortion, hijacking, and attempted murder offences all rose last year, according to national crime statistics compiled by the Central Statistics Office (CSO). In his response to the figures, Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern accepted that as the nature of criminal activity changes, gardaí must adapt to meet the challenge. In that regard, his announcement of a White Paper to develop a long-term strategy to fight crime is welcome.
Offences involving the possession of knives have increased by one-third over the last two years. Mr Ahern announced plans last week to introduce a five-year jail sentence for those caught in possession of a knife. As one-third of knife-related offences occur in public areas, community policing has an important role in tackling this form of crime. Garda Inspectorate head Kathleen O’Toole pointed out recently that the Garda, unlike some other police forces, commands the public’s confidence and is well placed as a result to gather the necessary intelligence to solve such crimes. Garda Commissioner Fachtna Murphy has recognised this and is preparing plans to reinvigorate community policing.
Two years ago the CSO took over responsibility from the Garda for compiling and publishing national crime statistics. Since then it has produced consistent and detailed data from 2003 which enable the Garda to identify the changing pattern of crime. Ms O’Toole, a former Boston police chief, has said that spotting emerging trends in a particular area much sooner is critical. As she pointed out last month, provision of a sophisticated electronic database would enable the Garda to see crime trends developing in real time and to respond quickly and effectively. Crime statistics provide valuable data in the battle against crime but mapping technology, properly used, would provide additional, complementary information. It should be made available.