Trevor Laffan: What's the best crime deterrent? Good neighbours

In many cases, we have more of a relationship with our phones and laptops than we do with our neighbours, we keep to ourselves and mind our own business, so says Trevor Laffan in his weekly column
Trevor Laffan: What's the best crime deterrent? Good neighbours

FEAR FACTOR: Many people, especially older people, can over-estimate the chances of being burgled

WE’RE all busy these days. Everyone is on the go, between getting to work, organising kids for school, collecting them again in the evening, having dinner and doing homework.

It’s especially tough for those with a long commute and, for them, there isn’t much time left in the day for anything else.

There are many who leave home early in the morning and don’t return until late in the evening. They’re so busy with their own lives that they have little interaction with their families, let alone their neighbours, and sometimes they don’t even know who their neighbours are.

That has consequences for us all, and one of the casualties of this modern-day living and lack of community engagement is that we can become isolated.

Self-preservation becomes the norm and looking out for each other is no longer a priority.

In many cases, we have more of a relationship with our phones and laptops than we do with our neighbours. We keep to ourselves and mind our own business.

The Mayor of Galway told a story about how he came across a woman who was having difficulty with a man on the street, late at night in the city centre. He approached the guy and told him to leave the girl alone and he received a smack in the face for his trouble.

That didn’t bother him too much but what really annoyed him was the fact that there was a crowd gathering and they were more interested in filming the scene with their phones than they were in helping or contacting the gardaí. That’s not something for society to be proud of, but it’s the way we’ve gone.

I came across an older gentleman recently and he was telling me about how he hates the thought of the clock going back because that signals the start of the long winter evenings. I thought he was going to tell me that he hates the wind, the cold and lighting fires and so on, but that wasn’t the case.

It had nothing to do with the weather. He has a fear of crime and he gets very nervous in the house because he is afraid of being broken into during the night and being assaulted.

These are ordinary, decent people who have worked hard all their lives and just want to enjoy the remainder of it in peace, but both he and his elderly wife are worried about their security and feel very vulnerable. They hear stories on the news about elderly people being victims of crime and they’re conscious that it could happen to them.

It’s hard to blame them for feeling insecure and it’s very understandable that they feel vulnerable to attack. The closure of many rural garda stations, the shortage of manpower in An Garda Siochana, and the lack of visibility of its members on patrol are contributing factors.

Reports of murders and aggravated burglaries in the media also help to fuel the fear, and while these types of crime are not hugely prevalent, they are usually widely reported when they do occur.

Older people read about serial criminals escaping justice, even though they may have dozens of previous convictions recorded against them, and that adds to the fear.

News of a burglary in rural Ireland travels quickly and can strike fear throughout the locality. That has an effect on the wider community, so it’s not only the victim that is suffering. Their sense of security is threatened and that can impact on the way they live the rest of their lives, often becoming afraid to leave the house.

Macra na Feirme is an organisation that is well aware of the fear being experienced by communities in rural Ireland, and they encourage neighbours to get to know each other and establish a support network.

According to their research, keeping in contact with elderly neighbours is very important to their members and knowing their neighbour on a personal level is also important to many.

Any initiative that encourages neighbours to get to know each other better makes total sense. It doesn’t matter whether you live in a rural or urban environment, the best form of security you can have is a good neighbour.

But, for those who feel like prisoners in their own homes during the hours of darkness, it’s important to keep things in perspective. The chances of being attacked in their own home are slim. It happens, of course, but not as often as you might think.

Most burglaries are committed by opportunists on the look-out for an easy target. They search for the open window, an unlocked door or an insecure garden shed. They prefer the soft options and when an opportunity presents itself, they take it.

When I was growing up, the key was always left in the front door and that door was often left open. People came and went all the time because that was the age we lived in.

But times have changed, and we can’t do that anymore. Neither can we leave the key under the mat or under the flowerpot.

It might come as a surprise to some of you, but these are not great hiding places. The thickest criminal will think of looking there so you’d better find a better hiding spot.

There are simple steps we can all take to reduce the risk of becoming victims of crime, but it’s worth repeating that the best form of security is a good neighbour. Taking notice of callers and being seen to be a little inquisitive is a great deterrent to a would-be criminal.

But for that to happen, we must put the phones aside and spend some time finding out who our neighbours are, and get back to looking out for each other again.

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