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Increase in night-time assaults linked to improved economy, watchdog hears

Gardai are focusing attention on tackling the increasing number of assaults at night, a watchdog has been told.

With latest crime statistics pointing to a spike in attacks, the Policing Authority heard the increase was anticipated as bars and restaurants in towns and cities become busier as the economy recovers.

The number of attempts or threats to murder, assaults, harassment and related offences increased by more than 1,000 in the first three months of the year compared to the same period in 2015.

Garda Commissioner Noirin O’Sullivan said the rise was not unexpected.

“There are a number of areas, I wouldn’t say we are concerned about, we are actually not surprised. We had more or less predicted that they would be there,” she said.

“I think … when we say we are not surprised we have various trends and patterns that we identify over time, so actually this increase in assaults is following a trend that we had identified.”

The Commissioner said Operation Thor, which was set up to tackle the deepening concern about burglaries, could be adapted to try to combat assaults and incidents on the streets at night.

Gurchand Singh, head of the Garda’s analysis service, said the increase was directly related to busier streets at night as the economy improves and follows a fall in the same category from 2008-2011.

“As the night-time economy has begun to re-emerge we have seen assaults beginning to increase again. This is something that we spotted a few months ago, more than a few months ago,” he said.

“We have good successes in terms of burglaries, we have had good successes in terms of thefts. Assaults are the one we have got our eye on now.”

The recorded crime statistics also noted an increase in sexual offences, which Mr Singh cautioned were always difficult to interpret.

He told the authority there is a relatively low level of reporting of rape and sexual assaults and variations could be due to this or because of historical cases coming to light.

It is the third appearance of Garda top brass at a public sitting of the authority and comes on the back of the O’Higgins report into bad policing in the Cavan-Monaghan division and also the publication of an attitudes survey which found four in 10 victims of crime are not happy with the way their cases are handled.

The issue of vacancies in the top ranks was raised at the opening of the hearing and the authority was also told there should be 390 inspectors in the force but there are only 240.

The Commissioner said she has written to the Government asking for the empty positions in the senior ranks to filled including two assistant commissioners, 18 chief superintendents and 26 superintendents.

Josephine Feehily, chair of the Policing Authority, said her office has also written to the Government urging it to clear the way for the temporary promotion of officers into senior roles to fill vacancies.

The watchdog asked for the Garda Commissioner to provide information in writing on the number of officers who have been sanctioned in the last five years.

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The hearing was also told investigating gardai receive warnings on the force’s internal crime reporting system Pulse, which alerts them to progress certain aspects of their inquiries.

The Commissioner said her main concerns in the force were gaps in the senior ranks, a lack of equipment, crime detection rates and accuracy in recording of crime.

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