Chief Supt Tom Hayes of Cork West Garda Division last month hosted an innovative conference involving all 70 Community Alert and Neighbourhood Watch groups in the Division in the Riverside Park Hotel in Macroom.
The event, which was organised by Crime Prevention Officer for the region Sgt Ian O’ Callaghan, had a twin objective. Firstly to explain about the roll out of the new Text Alert system for West Cork and how Community Alert and Neighbourhood Watch groups in the Division would be facilitating people in communities receiving texts from their local Garda District HQ station (Macroom, Bandon, Clonakilty and Bantry). Examples were given of the types of texts that would be distributed such as suspicious vehicles or persons, bogus/rogue callers to houses, missing persons, road diversions, crime updates and crime prevention advice on current crime trends or patterns. Community Alert Groups will be forming committees in the coming weeks to discuss a nominal fee per mobile phone per annum to cover the costs of the network provider, means how people can pay and to whom etc. Chief Supt Hayes told delegates that it is envisaged to have the new service rolled out in June. He also added that Garda members in the Division will be trained shortly on distribution, verification and controls on the texts that will be sent out to the public. The advantage of the new system is that potentially thousands of people in a Garda District will be able to receive a text within minutes of an incident being reported to the Gardai. There will also be the option to send a Divisional text if the member sees fit. Sgt Ian O’ Callaghan stressed that Cork West will be the first Garda Division in the country to launch and that other areas will be explored to develop the initiative later in the year such as a dedicated text alert service to businesses. He also added that the new system will tie in with the current IFA text service to maximise its reach. Endorsing the soon to be launched service were Mr Liam Kelly National Community Alert Co-Ordinator and Sgt Denis Beakey of the National Community Relations Section in Garda HQ.
Table top exercises were completed by the delegates where a series of questions were put to delegates on the future role of Community Alert and Neighbourhood Watch. A major aspect of this was seeking feedback from people on how to utilise social media to enhance communication between the Gardai, Community Alert and the general public. The overwhelming concensus was that the Gardai should explore all social media options such as Facebook, Viber and Twitter to enhance its services to the population of West Cork. This would improve communication with young people and hopefully encourage more of the 15-40 year-olds to get involved with their local groups and to be up to date with important crime prevention information from the Gardai. Chief Supt Hayes stated he would make every effort possible to establish such a communication for when their was a clear demand for it. Chief Supt added that he would need to work with Garda HQ on using Cork West as a Pilot project for such an initiative. Sgt O’ Callaghan added that there was currently an E-Mail Alert service in operation in the Division for the benefit of thousands of businesses and also a seperate IFA Email Alert operating in the Division since the beginning of last year.