Patrols stepped up to deter burglaries against the elderly
Police are increasing patrols and deploying specialist detectives to tackle a marked rise in burglaries against older people in Northern Ireland.
The number of domestic burglary victims aged 60 or over has risen by more than a third in 2015, according to the latest PSNI statistics.
From April to the start of September there were 606 recorded offences compared to 445 over the same six month period in 2014 - a rise of 36%.
There has also been an increase in the overall burglary rate in Northern Ireland, but that 5% rise is modest in comparison to the spike in crimes against older people. Superintendent Simon Walls, the PSNI's organisational lead for domestic burglary, said the figures were concerning.
"As an organisation we are worried about the rise in older persons who are the victims of burglary, but we are committed to tackling that in a range of ways," he said.
Steps being taken include handing burglary investigations involving older people to specialist CID detectives and stepping up visible patrols in areas that have experienced the most significant crime spikes, such as north and south Belfast.
Mr Walls said there were a variety of factors behind the increase. He said the involvement of organised crime gangs was suspected but stressed that was not the primary reason for the burglary spate. "There is an aspect of organised criminality but it's only one aspect of it," he said.
"My sense of this is it's more random than organised. But it's difficult to be definitive around all of this. But I accept there is a degree of organisation.
"I think it's really important older people and the community isn't left with the impression that there are lots of organised crime gangs targeting older people, because that's not my understanding of this."
The PSNI is also trying to generate more community involvement in the fight against the burglars, with initiatives such as the nominated neighbour scheme, whereby older people can ask cold callers to confirm their identity with one of their neighbours.
"One of the strengths of NI is we still have that neighbourliness that maybe has been lost elsewhere," said Mr Walls.
"So it's about being a good neighbour, about involving yourselves in the nominated neighbour scheme. Look after older people, particularly the vulnerable."
The officer added: "I accept there may be concern out there about the rise in burglaries. I accept the trauma that a burglary can cause in an older person, not just the trauma but even potentially the financial hardship.
"But the bottom line for me is to express the PSNI's commitment to preventing burglaries, to provide them with a level of reassurance, and our absolute commitment to putting the burglars behind bars.
"The most effective way we can keep older people safe is by convicting people and locking them up."