Meath’s new crime prevention officer, Sergeant Patrick Smyth.

Newly appointed crime prevention officer warns of the menace of bogus callers pretending to be gardai

Ongoing bogus caller and distraction theft incidents targeting elderly people continue to be of major concern in the Meath Garda District with recently appointed crime prevention officer, Sergeant Patrick Smyth, highlighting how the culprits can appear very plausible.

In most cases they will impersonate gardai and show what appears to be a garda badge, with a story that they have found cash as a way to get into the home.

Sgt Smyth is also warning of another trend that has started to happen where the person turns up at the door in a distressed state, pretending to have lost their dog or cat. This type of incident has not yet been reported in Meath but Gardai want to make people aware that it has been happening elsewhere, including an incident in neighbouring Westmeath.

There have been dozens of incidents of bogus callers claiming to be gardai targeting the homes of elderly people in the past six to nine months, and just last Thursday, a man called to the home of an elderly woman impersonating a garda and claimed to have found cash. However, Sgt Smyth said it appears the message is getting out, and this lady was suspicious and did not let him in. She phoned 999 and he left.

"There is continuous trend of impersonating gardai. They tell the homeowner they found cash and ask them to check theirs. Once they open the door, they push their way inside past the homeowner, rummage through the house and take whatever valuables they can find.

"They are very plausible, and come across very mannerly. They are using any excuse to get into your home and they are targeting our elderly community."

It is not clear whether houses are being vetted out first by the culprits but Sgt Smyth believes that local information is being passed on.

"There have been specific burglaries where the person has just returned from the post office with their pension. In one incident the lady had been in hospital and had just collected five weeks of her pension.

"There are indications that local information is somehow circulating back to these criminals. They are targeting very specific elderly people in the community who more than likely live alone and in majority of cases live in rural areas that are isolated."

Sgt Smyth is reminding people that Gardai will never approach a homeowner about cash and if they are not happy with the identification of any person who calls to the door, not to let them in and to phone 999.

He is also making people aware of the latest trend where the caller claims to have lost a dog or cat. "They are very plausible, using their distress as a way to try gain the trust of the homeowner. It is all about trying to get trust and getting their way into the house without using force or pressure."

People are also reminded to make sure their back door is locked as often one person will distract them at the front door while another goes around the back.

As crime prevention officer, Sgt Smyth is there to give advice and can arrange a home visit to discuss security. He advises the use of personal alarms for the elderly and also said there are many security products that can help as a deterrent including alarm systems, CCTV, and sensor lights. People should also ensure their phone is on and charged, and Sgt Smyth is encouraging neighbours to call in on elderly people especially during the winter months.

Another area where gardai are anticipating a surge is the theft of home heating oil coming into the winter months. Sgt Smyth is advising homeowners to take extra precautions and think about location of the tank which should be in view of a window but not visible from the road and to consider strategic planting and securing it with a timber fence or metal cage. Other deterrents include an oil tank alarm, a strong padlock, security lights and CCTV. He also pointed out that it is a good idea to limit the amount of fuel in your tank so there is less oil that can be stolen.

Sgt Smyth recently took over the role of crime prevention officer from Dean Kerins who retired earlier this year.

Originally from Kilcock, Sgt Smyth joined An Garda Siochana in 2000 with his first posting to Kilmainham in Dublin where he spent seven years. He served in Longwood, Trim and Navan before being promoted to Sergeant in 2014 and was appointed to Bailieboro in Co Cavan. He returned to Trim as Sergeant in Charge in 2017 before being appointed as Crime Prevention Officer in August, a role he says he is very much looking forward to.

After his garda training, Sgt Smyth continued his studies undertaking several courses including a Diploma in Policing Studies, a certificate in Civil Service and State Agency Studies, a degree in Law and Administration of Justice and a post graduate certificate in Governance and Accountability. He is currently studying a certificate in Human Rights and Policing in Ireland.

"I've always been very interested in crime prevention. In the last decade, community engagement and crime prevention have become a huge focus and area of concentration and effort by An Garda Siochana as part of our responsibility and remit within the criminal justice system. The Garda organisation has very much been re-directed as a service rather than being viewed as a force and the victim has become the epicentre of the organisation, that a big change in how it is structured.

"My role is to support that structure and to help promote and implement all crime reduction strategies that are identified both locally and nationally.

"Dean was extremely innovative in the role and I strive to continue his work and further develop new working relationships with other stakeholders. I intend to develop a relationship of open dialogue and mutual trust with relevant agencies and stakeholders and to support the integral work of other community and voluntary groups within Meath.

"Along with my community engagement colleagues, we are very much focussed on the victim and highlighting prevention and reducing opportunities for crime to be committed.

"I intend to meet as many stakeholders as possible."

Sgt Smyth is available to go out to any local voluntary groups to talk about crime prevention and give advice. Any individual or business who would like advice regarding security can also get in touch by emailing or contacting Kells Garda Station on (046) 9280820.