CROSS-border criminal gangs believed to be responsible for many of the burglaries in rural areas across west Tyrone in recent weeks are becoming increasingly sophisticated, a senior police officer has warned.
In recent weeks a series of burglaries and attempted break-ins were reported in Castlederg, Omagh, Fintona, the Clogher Valley and neighbouring areas in north Fermanagh.
Omagh PSNI area commander, Chief Inspector Graham Dodds, said, “I have always thought burglary is really one of the worst crimes because you’re invading somebody’s most personal space, particularly if it’s an elderly person, but not restricted to that.
“So, just one burglary concerns me. It’s sadly one of the things we see in the darker nights that these gangs will come out and it’s fairly organised.
“We tend to find that we’ll have gangs from as far afield as Dublin coming up and doing stuff here.”
The chief inspector said that the PSNI were working seamlessly with their Gardai colleagues in the South and regularly carried out cross-border operations.
But even with a direct radio link to the guards now in operation, he admitted that the sheer size of the local policing districts hampered efforts to catch the culprits.
“It’s a big rural district. There’s lots of back roads and main roads and there’s only so many police on both sides of the border,” he said.
Chief Inspector Dodds warned that the gangs were becoming much more organised.
He said, “A lot of the time, they will put work into it. So they will come up weeks before in different vehicles. They’ll have scouted the area and picked five targets.
“They’ll then go back down for a couple of weeks and then they’ll send up different people, certainly in different cars.
“We’ve stopped cars with as many as four or five, six, seven sets of number plates.
“It’s a job for these people. We’re told that they’ll commute from their house and then they’ll pick up their ‘work’ cars to come up here with their list. It used to be that they would be given a sat nav.
“The advance team would have put the houses to burgle in the sat nav and, like a delivery driver, they would work their way down.”
The area commander also said the gangs were now more forensically aware, making the police’s job a lot harder.
“We are seeing a lot more people wearing gloves and masks because of the CCTV a lot more people put in. They are also trying to eliminate the forensics by flooding a place with bleach or cleaning products, which doesn’t always work, but it might,” he said.
Chief Inspector Dodds stressed that the best way to prevent a burglary is to have good security at your home, including installing a good alarm and possibly CCTV. He reminded people to always lock doors and windows, and leave a light or the radio on when they leave.
The area commander also encouraged neighbours to keep an eye out for any suspicious activity around empty houses, particularly in rural areas.