38. Deputy Thomas Byrne asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality the measures that will be taken to tackle a burglary detection rate of less than one in eight in County Meath; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [40461/16]
Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Frances Fitzgerald): I understand that the Deputy is referring to detection rates highlighted in the 'Garda Recorded Crime Statistics 2010-2014', which was published by the Central Statistics Office (CSO) last week. The first thing that needs to be said is that this publication provides an analysis of data up to the end of 2014 only, and it would be entirely incorrect to suggest that it represents an assessment of the current situation in relation to burglary or any other crime category.
In relation to the general issue of detection rates, it must be recognised that detection rates do vary according to the nature of the crime and that this is in line with international experience. Detection rates are often found to be lower for certain offences, such as burglaries and some other property crimes, as these generally only come to light after the event and the offender has left the scene. These offences are inherently more difficult to investigate than others such as possession of drugs, for example, where the offender is observed while committing the offence. While our statistical system is not directly comparable with that of other countries, in the UK, for example, similar difficulties exist in detecting burglaries. This is illustrated by Home Office figures which show that over 80% of burglary investigations in 2014/2015 were concluded without a suspect being identified.
I do of course share the Deputy’s concern that we do everything we can to protect communities from burglary and other crimes against householders. Long before the publication of the recent CSO analysis, I initiated a broad ranging review of our response to burglary crime.
Operation Thor launched in November 2015 has led to a sharp decline in the rate of burglary crime. Indeed, the most current CSO crime figures, which are for the second quarter of 2016, indicate that in the first six months of this year there were 36% less burglaries than in the first six months of 2015, underlining the impact of Operation Thor. It is also worth noting that the CSO Quarter 2 figures for the Wexford Garda Division show a reduction in Burglary of 34%. We have also seen the enactment of specific legislation targeting prolific burglars in the Criminal Justice (Burglary of Dwellings) Act 2015. These provisions are now available to Gardaí in relation to prosecutions arising from the concentrated drive against crime which is being implemented under Operation Thor, which is supported by very significant investments in Garda resources. The reduction in burglaries as a result of Operation Thor will not of course be indicated in the detection rate statistics when they become available for the relevant period but the prevention of crime is always preferable to crimes having been committed which must then be detected.
If I might illustrate the scale of Garda activity against burglary and property crime – under Operation Thor we have seen 30,000 crime prevention patrols and in the order of 38,500 targeted checkpoints nationwide . There have also been in the region of 2,500 arrests and 2,900 charges covering a range of offences which, in addition to burglary, have included handling stolen property, possession of firearms and drugs offences.
The Criminal Justice (Forensic Evidence and DNA Database System) Act was commenced a year ago and introduced the DNA database, which provides Gardaí with investigative links (’hits’) between people and unsolved crimes; in particular burglaries. It is anticipated that this should significantly assist in improving detection rates for burglary over the coming years. So far, approximately 532 investigative links between people and unsolved crimes have already been uncovered, including 359 burglary cases. In addition, the database links crime scene samples to each other and so far, 95 crime scene samples have been linked to other crime scene samples, demonstrating a link between two crimes or clusters of crimes committed by the same person in a particular area or locality.
I understand that the CSO will publish the next Quarterly Recorded Crime Statistics release before the end of this month. I can assure the Deputy that I will be monitoring crime trends very carefully and will remain in close contact with the Garda Commissioner to ensure that we continue to provide An Garda Síochána with the necessary legislative and financial supports needed to tackle crime and protect people in their own homes.
And finally, underpinning the Government’s approach is our commitment to increase Garda numbers to 15,000 and we are pressing ahead with our plans for accelerated Garda recruitment so that we can provide more visible front line policing and bring greater reassurance to people in their local communities.