The PSNI has assured the south Belfast community that it is doing all in its power to catch criminals who who are actively targeting the elderly.
And local Chief Inspector, Trevor O’Neill, revealed that last month 10 arrests were made in the south and east areas of the city, in connection with domestic burglaries.
Chief Inspector O’Neill was one of a number of speakers who attended a public meeting, addressing the issue of attacks on pensioners in south Belfast, at St Brides Parish Hall last Thursday evening.
He said such crimes “strike at the heart of communities”, which was why police treated them so seriously.
“There are few things more upsetting than the picture of an older person bruised and shaken up by the ordeal of having had their home burgled,” the chief inspector stated.
“It’s a disgrace that somebody who has worked and contributed to the community all their life is attacked in their own home.
“We want to see those who are preying on the most vulnerable brought before the courts and taken away from the communities they are wreaking misery on.”
Chief Inspector O’Neill made reference to Operation Bullent, a Northern Ireland-wide drive to prevent and reduce crimes against the elderly.
It also supports victims through what he referred to as “effective investigation” and by bringing offenders to justice.
Said the police chief: “In particular, Operation Bullent aims to tackle distraction burglaries and aggravated burglaries against older people and to monitor bogus caller or rogue trader incidents.
“No matter how much we step up our efforts to tackle crimes against older people, we still need everybody’s help in stopping such crimes.
“It is really important that we are good neighbours and in particular watch out for older people.
“If you see someone acting suspiciously, note down any important details such as a description or car registration and contact police immediately.
“Let me assure you that we are doing our utmost to catch criminals who may be actively targeting older people.
“It is vital that they can feel safe in their homes — ultimately that is the very least we owe them.”
In south Belfast last week two elderly women were targeted by intruders.
On Monday, March 8, two men, one armed with an iron bar, threatened a women in her seventies in her Carmel Street home and made off with her handbag.
At around 2.50am the following day, thieves entered the Lower Ormeau flat of a woman in her eighties and removed cash while she slept.
Last week’s meeting was hosted by local MLA, Conall McDevitt, who vowed to deal with such crime.
“It is important that at a time when the elderly are at their most vulnerable ,we come together and tackle this very important issue,” he said.
“I aim to work along with interested members of the local community to create a Neighbourhood Watch scheme.
“These schemes have proved to be very successful in areas throughout the North and it is my vision that we can prove them to be every bit as successful in south Belfast.”
His call was backed by Denise Smyth, a community safety co-ordinator at Belfast City Council.
She also encouraged the setting up of Neighbourhood Watch schemes and called for community support and help.
“Residents need to report incidents of crime and anti-social behaviour to the appropriate agency so that together we are able to set in motion an effective response,” said Ms Smyth.
Speaking after the meeting, Anne O'Reilly, CEO of Age Concern Help the Aged NI, said she took the opportunity to talk about the charity’s HandyVan and First Connect services.
They offer both practical and emotional support to any elderly person who may have been the victim of crime.
“It was an equally important opportunity to highlight that 66 percent of older people in Northern Ireland have identified fear of crime as the main problem they face and the negative impact this has on their quality of life,” she said.
“Some simple actions to prevent the risk of burglary are to lock all doors and windows, especially at night.
“Use a door viewer and fit a door chain. Stop and think before opening the door to anyone you don't recognise and check the caller's identity.”