We need to protect our pensioners
Crime against older people is universally condemned across our society, and rightly so. While the level of violent crime and burglary against older people is relatively low in Northern Ireland, each incident is traumatic for the victim and causes fear across the wider community.
The recent spate of burglaries in the homes of several older people in the run-up to Christmas is sickening, and shows that more needs to be done to bring offenders to justice, and to prevent others from offending in the future.
But it is not only crime itself that causes worry and distress to older people. Fear of crime has been identified as a key concern of older people in the Pensioners Parliament every year, which suggests that older people do not believe enough is being done to prevent and prosecute perpetrators of crime.
There is justification for this concern. An analysis of PSNI statistics carried out by my office found that crimes committed against older people are less likely to result in prosecution than crimes committed against people of any other age group.
It is essential that people suspected of committing crimes against older people are put before the courts. And if they are convicted, the sentencing must take into account the devastating impact that crime can have on older people.
It is also important that there is more training for police officers in dealing effectively with older victims of crime, with thorough collection of all available intelligence and forensic evidence. This will ensure there is a greater chance of bringing offenders to justice and ultimately improve outcomes for victims.
If the police and government are truly committed to reducing crime and the fear of crime, as is stated in the current Programme for Government, this must be followed through with real and measurable targets to significantly improve clearance rates for crimes committed against older people. This would increase confidence by reducing the fear of crime among older people, and send a clear message to offenders and would-be offenders that they will be much more likely to be brought to justice.
Claire Keatinge is Commissioner for Older People for Northern Ireland