Action not just assurances vital to assuage OAP fears
After Bertie Acheson's murder, PSNI claims that crimes against the elderly are rare offer scant comfort to pensioners, says Patricia Donald
The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) reassures us that crimes against older people are relatively rare and it is often assumed that this reassurance alone should help address the anxiety and fear felt by thousands of older people.
Every time an older person hears about an incident such as the heartbreaking story of Bertie Acheson in Coleraine, the level of fear increases.
The instinctive question which most of us naturally ask ourselves is: Am I next?
No matter how many times the police try to reassure us with statistics; it is often that question that springs to mind.
During the last few months, we at Age Sector Platform have been touring the province as part of the Northern Ireland Pensioners Parliament and have consulted with older people from every county about their concerns.
Fear of crime is an issue that does not appear to be going away, with almost two out of three older people (64%) telling us that it is a worry for them.
The practical suggestions discussed by older people as a means of tackling crime and fear of crime during the parliaments were very constructive.
They included: more visible policing, quicker police response times, more support for neighbourhood watch schemes, better community engagement, more severe sentencing for criminals who target older people and increased access to local policing teams.
We need to be careful not to increase the fear factor and the last thing we want is for older people to lock themselves away like prisoners in their own homes.
It is important that our older population has the confidence to remain vital and active members of our communities.
We at Age Sector Platform have worked alongside the relevant authorities on this issue and will continue to do so.
A new community safety strategy is currently being developed by the Department of Justice and this provides a timely opportunity to tackle this serious problem head on.
In the draft Programme for Government, the Northern Ireland Executive has pledged to tackle crime against older people and to reduce fear of crime among older people in the coming years.
We at Age Sector Platform welcome this commitment and are eager to learn how this will be achieved.
Our intention has always been for the Northern Ireland Pensioners' Parliament to deliver real change for the older people of Northern Ireland and the commitments within the Programme for Government in relation to crime and fear of crime mark the beginning of the work needed to bring about that change.
It is now our job to ensure that these promises are kept.
We will continue to work with the Department of Justice and the PSNI to ensure that strong action is taken to tackle this problem.
Towards the end of this month, a regional Pensioners' Parliament will be held in Belfast, where older people from across Northern Ireland will come together and decide on the priority issues of concern to them.
One of the parliament debates will allow the older people present to question a senior representative from the PSNI and instances of burglary/robbery and the associated conviction rate will no doubt be a hot topic for discussion.
We at Age Sector Platform are keen to hear how the PSNI will respond on this matter and, furthermore, how fear of crime is specifically planned to be addressed.
It is clear that police statistics are simply not good enough to act as reassurance anymore.
If you would like more information about Age Sector Platform, or the Northern Ireland Pensioners Parliament, visit www.agesectorplatform.org, or feel free to ring us on (028) 9031 2089.