Pressure grows on the police to catch callous burglars who target elderly
Police are under pressure to catch the "small group" of burglars targeting hundreds of pensioners as it emerges that just 7% of the callous crimes are being solved.
In the past six months just 69 of more than 900 raids at the homes of victims aged over 60 resulted in detection according to PSNI statistics.
Following a spate of terrifying break-ins at the homes of pensioners in recent months PSNI Superintendent Simon Walls admitted there are a number of challenges in detecting domestic burglaries.
"These challenges include the random nature of the crimes, the possible lack of witness evidence and absence of forensic opportunities, exacerbates by properties being unsecured. These challenges are common to any age group of victim," he said.
Chief Constable George Hamilton has admitted it is an area of concern. He told the Policing Board that the PSNI "seeks to ensure consistently high levels of burglary investigation". He also said that work has been undertaken to identify crime gangs that might be involved in targeting older people. The Chief Constable added that "specific operational activity is taking place."
However, the low detection rates are causing considerable concern.
"This goes beyond concern, it is deeply worrying. I don't know if it is to do with a lack of resources or something else but we need to see improvements if we want people to have confidence in our police service," warned Policing Board member Robin Newton. "A lot of work is being done in terms of prevention but when burglaries are being committed they aren't being solved. It is a concern to the entire community."
One of the most shocking incidents in recent weeks was when a woman in her 80s had her wedding ring stolen from her hand during a frightening raid by four masked men at her Magherafelt home. Also last month a gang of masked men ransacked the home of an elderly woman in north Belfast, leaving her terrified.
A week previously, an armed gang raided the home of a man in his 90s and a woman in her 70s in Garvagh.
Mr Newton said he believes a small group of men are behind the majority of recent burglaries at pensioners' homes. "They are deliberately targeting older people, taking their valuables and leaving them terrified. So many of the victims have been left traumatised. The impact is like a tsunami wave. It impacts on everyone in the area," he said.
His Policing Board colleague Jonathan Craig admitted these are "difficult crimes to resolve".
"There appears to be a small number of people carrying out a large number of these burglaries. Even if you catch a burglar, you might only be able to connect him to one or two of the crimes, so that leaves a large number unresolved," he said.
The PSNI has insisted that tackling these crimes is top of the agenda. Officers have also joined forces with local councils to help reduce burglaries through awareness and preventative campaigns.