Covid-19 lockdown sees ‘significant drop’ in crime but drug-driving offences soar

The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and associated lockdowns has seen “a significant drop” in the number of criminal offences recorded by An Garda Síochána.

Jun 24, 2021
By Paul Jacques
Picture: An Garda Síochána

Latest figures published by the Irish Central Statistics Office show a sharp fall across most crime categories in the year to March 2021.

However, for the first time more people are being arrested for drug-driving than driving under the influence of alcohol. While drink-driving offences fell by 1,436, down from 6,282 to 4,846 (a drop of 22.9 per cent), offences of driving under the influence of drugs soared by more than 75 per cent despite coronavirus restrictions – up 1,200 from 1,561 to 2,761 (an increase of 76.9 per cent).

Minister for Justice, Heather Humphreys TD said this was down to “greater Garda checks during the lockdown period”.

The coronavirus restrictions saw burglary and related offences almost halved in the 12-month period – down by 7,457 (45.4 per cent).

Theft and related offences were down by 20,497 (30.7 per cent) and robbery, extortion and hijacking offences fell by 609 (26.4 per cent), when compared with the corresponding period to March 2020.

There were also notable decreases in the numbers of crime incidents classified as attempts/threats to murder, assaults, harassments and related offences, down by 2,953 (13.9 per cent), while damage to property and to the environment fell by 11.4 per cent and public order and other social code offences were down by 11.2 per cent.

The number of homicide offences recorded fell by 14 compared with the previous year, including a decrease of eight in the combined figure for murder and manslaughter incidents.

However, the number of crime incidents classified as fraud and related offences increased by 1,101 (13.7 per cent). The Garda National Economic Crime Bureau – the An Garda Síochána department tasked with tackling economic crime, including fraud – says this is largely the result of more people working and shopping online during the pandemic. It also highlighted the “rapidly changing environment” in which those perpetrating economic crime operate, including increased technology usage and advancement, more complex criminality and questionable business practices.

There were also increases in the number of controlled drug offences ( up 9.5 per cent) and weapons and explosives offences (up 7.6 per cent).

Ms Humphreys said: “Covid-19 continues to deliver a significant interruption to crime patterns. The number of criminal offences recorded by An Garda Síochána has fallen sharply in most crime categories in the year to quarter one, 2021. This is welcome news.”

After a period of steady increases, Ms Humphreys welcomed the reduction in the reported number of sexual offences, down 3.1 per cent. Dangerous and negligent acts were also down.

She said: “While I welcome the decrease in reported sexual offences, I would continue to encourage anyone who has been a victim of sexual assault to come forward and report the incident to An Garda Síochána.

“Justice Plan 2021 commits to having a third national strategy on domestic, sexual and gender-based violence agreed before the end of the year. This new strategy will have a significant focus on service delivery, and will place a priority on prevention and reduction, and will include a national preventative strategy.

“We are continuing to prioritise our response to the needs of victims of sexual violence. This includes the nationwide rollout of the Divisional Protective Services Units (DPSUs) within An Garda Síochána, which means there are now specially trained officers available nationwide who are responsible for engagement with and interviewing vulnerable victims.

“New legislation to introduce preliminary trial hearings for the first time in Irish law has recently been enacted and this is another important step in the overall implementation of ‘Supporting a Victims Journey’, our plan to support victims of domestic, sexual and gender-based violence.”

“While many offences are down due to the pandemic, there are some crime groups which have seen increases. With greater Garda checks during the lockdown period, there have been increases in certain offence types that are typically detected through increased enforcement. This includes an increase in possession of drugs for sale and supply, and for personal use. We have also seen a significant increase in the cultivation and manufacture of drugs (up 119 per cent). Driving under the influence of drugs has also significantly increased (up 76.9 per cent).”

Ms Humphreys said the “significant increase in recorded incidents of controlled drug offences was a cause for concern”, yet it also reflects the increased number of Gardaí on the front line and the concentrated work of the Garda National Drugs and Organised Crime Bureau.

She added: “The government and An Garda Síochána will continue to target this activity due to its incredible damage to families, to the community and to the individuals concerned. An Garda Síochána, in partnership with other relevant agencies nationally and internationally, are having significant success in disrupting drug trafficking and the supply of illicit drugs in Ireland.”

Sinn Féin spokesperson on justice Martin Kenny TD said: “One of the few benefits coming out of the pandemic was a significant drop in the number of criminal offences recorded by the gardaí.

“This welcome development points to the effectiveness of increased garda visibility in our communities in the prevention of crime.

“Those crimes which increased during the pandemic and continued to do so in the first quarter of this year were classified as fraud and related offences.

“These rose by nearly 14 per cent, but also drug seizures and weapons and explosive offences were up by between seven and nine per cent.

“A logical analysis of these figures is that increased garda activity on our streets serves to prevent crime and to detect more drugs and weapons on the move around our towns and cities.”

The latest crime statistics also include breaches of the coronavirus restrictions. An Garda Síochána recorded a total of 10,459 offences on its PULSE computer database for breaches of Covid-19 regulations in the first quarter of this year.

This is a marked increase on 1,090 such offences recorded during 2020 (304 in Q2 2020, 262 in Q3 2020 and 524 in Q4 2020), and reflects the introduction of a new system of fixed payment notices (fines) in respect of breaches of Covid-19 regulations in December 2020. The figure includes unpaid fines and other offences, but does not include fines which were paid.

Ms Humphreys said: “Covid-19 has created a range of unforeseen and unprecedented challenges for An Garda Síochána in implementing the regulations and keeping our communities protected from the spread of the pandemic. Yet these challenges have been met on top of existing duties to maintain order and continue neighbourhood policing operations.”

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