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Community on the alert through text

The new Community Alert text system in East Clare. Photograph by John KellyBurglars beware, Flagmount/Killanena Community Alert Scheme is working together through a text initiative to ensure that no crime goes undetected.
Although in existence since 2002, Flagmount/Killanena community alert has taken on new life after it began a networked text alert scheme that reaches out to more than 100 people in the locality.
The group is the first in the East Clare area to adopt the scheme, which warns the community about suspicious callers, unusual activity and when community events are going on.
The alert’s effectiveness is two-fold, not only do the community text their coordinator if they spot suspicious cars or callers but the gardaí also let the community know if they are tracking a suspect car or individual that may be in the area.
The texts are coordinated by one person and feeding into the coordinator are a further 15 sub-coordinators, each based in a different townland in the Flagmount/Killanena area.
A neighbour might text or tell their local coordinator if they have been visited by a suspicious caller and the coordinator, then passes on the information to the primary coordinator. A group text is then circulated to all those on the community alert text, including the local gardaí.
When the programme began, it had one coordinator who reached out to 15 sub-coordinators in the area but now the text reaches more than 100 people and also goes out to business people in neighbouring villages who have asked for the updates.
A spokesperson for the group said that while Flagmount is in a rural setting, it is still quite a central location, with many exit roads and, as a result, has been targeted by criminals on a number of occasions. However, since the text alerts have been introduced, it enables quick detection by the gardaí.
“There have been two occasions where that has happened. One where the gardaí contacted us to say they were aware of a vehicle in the area and we sent out the alert and the vehicle was stopped. As the text went out, one of the people was in front of that car and the gardaí could divert and catch them. There was another incident where a person was dropping off leaflets for tarmacadam. We knew these were people who would go in and charge an arm and a leg to an old person for the works and insist on payment and the gardaí are very anxious to know their movements,” Ger Hoey of the community alert group explained.
While the texts are used to warn the public and to inform gardaí about people acting suspiciously, the text has most recently been used to advise motorists of events, such as a new school programme.
“The school is doing a green schools project and as part of it they [pupils] cycle to school. They don’t cycle to school every day so drivers wouldn’t be aware of children on the roads, so we sent out a text to say between 8am and 9am there will be children cycling to school so people who don’t have children going to school would be aware of them,” Mr Hoey explained.
Since the texts began, Mr Hoey believes people now feel a lot safer in their community and are more likely to report unusual activity.
“Before this came in, the information just wasn’t being got. You could hear two weeks after an event that something had happened,” he said.
“It is also user-friendly, in that if someone has to go to a garda station, they mightn’t have the time but if they can text, then they can get the information out there without having to leave work or the home. I think people are talking more too and because of the frequency of the alerts, people are more tuned in. The community knows there are a lot of eyes out there now. It is in your mind all the time and if you see something, it is more in your mind to make contact and there is no problem flagging a car acting suspiciously or a cold caller or a van or whatever,” he added.
The texts are also used to forward feedback from the gardaí, who let the community alert know if they have spoken with an individual or stopped a vehicle or if it has led to an arrest. As Mr Hoey says, “the legitimate guy has nothing to fear”.
At the community alert’s last meeting, there were 23 people present and more apologised for being unable to attend .This was a huge improvement on the last AGM held by the group, which attracted five people. There were some who attended simply because they wanted to be added to the text list.
Clare’s crime prevention officer, Sergeant Joe Downey, was in attendance with local gardaí and the Flagmount/Killanena liaison officer, Darren McLoughlin, and the group were briefed on personal and home safety measures.
Sergeant Joe Fallon said the group in Killanena/Flagmount is “a very active community alert” and said the text initiative “should be rolled out across the county”.
“It is about the community getting together and looking out for one another and for us, the text service is good to get information out to all the people in the community at relatively short notice,” he said.
He added that it is not just used to look out for suspicious activity but it promotes community effort and ensures that older and more vulnerable people in the community are looked out for.
“It is a service that is needed and it is very important for the gardaí to know the community. This gives us a link to the community and it is amazing what comes because of it,” he said.
The community alert group continues to give assistance and help those looking to get panic alarms and security locks.

 

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