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Rising crime rates, a police force starved of cash, and victims like Betty Young (79) are left to pay the price

By Deborah McAleese

Published 13/05/2015

Bruised: mugging victim Betty Young
Bruised: mugging victim Betty Young

Violent crime across Northern Ireland has risen to more than 90 incidents every day, with fears there is worse to come as budget cuts bite.

The number of violent attacks rose by 5.7% to 34,253 incidents in the past year, according to new PSNI statistics.

Overall, total recorded crime has risen by 2.3% to 105,072 - an average of 287 reported crimes daily. Less than 30% of crimes were solved over the past year.

The crime increases have been blamed on crippling cuts to the PSNI's budget and manpower levels.

The PSNI said they are reviewing how service is delivered "in order to prioritise resources to the greatest threat, risk, harm and opportunity."

One of the latest victims of violent crime is 79-year-old Betty Young, who suffered a broken arm and bruising during a mugging.

Six months ago Chief Constable George Hamilton warned that multi-million-pound cuts to the police budget would mean a "reduced ability to keep people safe".

And he painted a picture of how the drastic change in policing would be felt in local communities. "The PSNI will be a smaller organisation - we will have less police officers; our ability to deliver will be reduced; and there will be harder choices as policing has to prioritise where to focus its efforts."

Politicians have claimed the rise in crime rates across the province is a direct result of the cuts.

"There has to be a connection between the rise in crime levels and the reduced budget," said Independent MLA John McCallister. "We have less money and less officers to do the job. The public expect the same level of policing as before, so the challenge for the chief constable is: how do you deliver that with less resources?"

"I am worried that worse is to come," he added.

Policing Board member Jonathan Craig blamed the crime rise on a "double whammy" of budget cuts and an "under-motivated, ageing" police service.

"I am not very surprised by the rise in crime levels," the DUP MLA said. "It is difficult to keep an ageing police force motivated, especially as it is a physically demanding job. To be honest, I would say it is more a lack of focus than a lack of resources.

"Budget cuts do not excuse police officers not doing their jobs."

Other reported crimes to increase over the past year, according to the PSNI statistics released yesterday, include hate crimes, domestic abuse and paramilitary-style shootings and assaults.

Deputy Chief Constable Drew Harris insisted, however, that the "slight increase" of 2.3% in recorded crime last year was similar to the "wider trend that is being experienced right across the UK."

"Like all public sector organisations we are operating in an environment of reducing budgets and reducing numbers of people to deliver against the same volume of calls for service," said Mr Harris.

He added: "Over the past 12 years, while reported crime has fallen by 26 per cent, calls for service have remained constant at 500,000."

Mr Harris said that police officers working in partnership with other statutory and community organisations "will become increasingly important in the coming months, as we continue to seek to keep people safe and address the issues that have been identified by communities as a priority."

A full breakdown of the 2014/15 crime statistics can be found at www.psni.police.uk

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