THE huge increase in the crime rate across Laois-Offaly, as detailed in last week’s Leinster Express, highlights the clear need for more Garda resources, and a greater Garda presence in both counties.
Burglaries and petty crime have surged by almost 50 per cent, over a four year period, from a figure of 664 in 2007 to 974 last year.
By any measure this is a massive and frightening increase.
It has left people and communities, particularly many elderly in isolated rural areas, feeling vulnerable and unsafe in their own homes.
The perpetuators of these crimes have also become increasingly brazen and bold in their acts.
Coupled with ease of access to motorways, it has led them to act with almost a degree of impunity.
Over the past few months, various towns and villages across south Laois have been targetted by criminal gangs who have the abliity to strike suddenly and effect quick getaways, courtesy of a good road network.
What is happening is largely unprecedented in some of these areas which previously had suffered little in the way of crime.
Burglaries and theft are by no means the only misdemeanours present. Drug cultivation, for example, is also up from two in 2007 to 16 cases last year.
And these statistics are only for reported crime. What is going on here is plain for all to see. With one of the biggest increases in crime rates in the country, Laois and Offaly have become a free for all for criminals.
All this is happening at a time when Garda resources are been depleted, and are under fierce pressure.
A number of Garda stations have either been closed or downgraded, and more closures are on the way.
The Laois-Offaly Garda division is currently operating with very few senior personnel.
In the wake of a number of retirements, we are without a Chief Superintendent, and there is no Superintendent in Laois.
Despite promises that these senior posts will soon be filled, it is clearly not good enough and sends out all the wrong signals.
Communities are doing what they can, through invaluable initiatives such as Community Alert and Neighbourhood Watch. Laois has seen a number of local schemes set up over the past few months, in response to what is seen as a spiralling problem.
However, local communities can only do so much, and its hardly incumbent on them to lead the fight against crime.
Initiatives such as Community Alert and Neighbourhood Alert are also all the more effective once there is adequate backup from the authorities.
In an era of cutbacks and fewer resources, it is paramount that the essential resoucres, such as policing are prioritised.
There is no substitute for things like community policing. The consequences for not sustaining adequate policing are there for all to see.
The bottom line is that people are entitled to feel safe in their homes, cutbacks or no cutbacks.