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Community Alert schemes ‘require a radical overhaul’

Community alert schemes are dead in the water unless they are radically overhauled to improve communication with the public, it was claimed at a Joint Policing Committee meeting in Loughrea.

Independent TD Sean Canney gave an example of one in Belclare, claiming that since November 5, 2019, just seven texts had been sent to those who had signed up for the community safety programme for rural areas.

One was in relation to Corofin going to the All-Ireland, another about getting properties secure for the winter and just three or four about suspicious cars in the area.

This was at a time when there were a ‘huge’ number of burglaries in the area.

“People are absolutely bewildered why they’re paying for a text alert system for so few texts,” he exclaimed.

“The Community Council are thinking of abandoning the community alert scheme. Until we improve communications there won’t be the interest in it.”

Cllr Andrew Reddington (FG) said he agreed that community alert schemes were not going according to plan and residents were holding church gate collections to pay for them to continue without seeing concrete results.

Cllr Declan Geraghty (Ind) said he was absolutely passionate about community alert schemes.

“We need everyone to get it working and get the message out there to stop these guys coming into our area. It’s destroying lives. It happened in Williamstown many years ago when two old men were broken into and their lives ruined.”

Superintendent Paudie Ó Sé said quality over quantity was more important when it came to sending out information from the Gardaí.

“We have to stand over what goes out…I’m aware of wrong information going out on some WhatsApp groups that is deadly dangerous.”

Crime Prevention Officer in Galway Mick Walsh said there were plans afoot to reinvigorate community alert groups by ensuring phone numbers were up to date and reaching out to those already signed up to ensure they were still on board.

“Text alerts work but it needs to be a text that’s accurate. A text went out about a suspicious car in Aughrim. Everybody was afraid. It turned out to be Aughrim in Wicklow.”

Gerard Costello of the voluntary group Muintir nn Tire, which coordinates the community alert schemes between Gardaí and communities, told the meeting they could operate without any cost. There was also a €350 rebate available to offset any fees that might be involved.

“A text alert scheme is only as good as the information put into the system. In my own area, there was a text about a missing person, 20 minutes later a lead was got which reduced the workload and trauma for the family.”

It was confirmed by Chief Superintendent Gerry Roche that an extra Garda would begin in Headford station in the next three weeks, adding to the two others stationed there.

Cllr Reddington told the meeting that the two already working there liaised with the community even on their days off. He noted that the station had undergone a €250,000 upgrade recently, which would improve conditions for the Gardaí on duty.

Deputy Canney said there was widespread disquiet among residents that calls to the Athenry Garda Station were being answered by Gardaí in Clifden.

“This has happened two or three times, so something is going wrong. Additional personnel are needed in Athenry.”

Supt Ó Sé said the reality was there were only a certain number of officers stationed at Athenry and outside of office hours calls were forwarded to Clifden.

“If there’s a car in Athenry, it won’t be in the station. They’ll be out answering calls. I prefer that, than sitting in the station. If you call Oranmore after 7pm, you’ll also get put through to Clifde. If it’s a 999 emergency call, you’ll be diverted to CAD [Computer Aided Dispatch] room and the nearest available car will go out.”

Noting the poor attendance by members of the public, Cllr Peter Roche (FG) said Loughrea must have “a real sense of safety and security”.

“I’m disappointed more people aren’t here. They didn’t fill this room tonight. Loughrea must be doing something right.”

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune:

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