I thank the committee for the invitation to meet it. As the people who deal with the victims of rural crime, especially burglaries, every day, An Garda Síochána is acutely conscious of the impact this crime has on people, families and communities, both urban and rural, and in particular vulnerable victims. Burglary is not just an economic crime. It is one that can have a devastating impact on people emotionally and personally. That is why we are so determined to tackle it.
In November 2015, the Garda introduced Operation Thor, with which the members are familiar. It was a new approach with a large number of units across a wide range of different areas and disciplines working together to prevent and detect burglaries based on analysis of crime trends and intelligence to target criminal gangs and repeat offenders. It saw us denying criminal gangs the use of the motorway network and increasing patrolling in areas worst affected by burglaries. It has resulted in many of those involved in burglary being arrested and charged. Since November 2015, more than 8,300 arrests have been made, more than 9,500 charges have been preferred, 34,000 searches and 203,771 patrols have been undertaken, and 143,231 checkpoints have been mounted. In addition, we have heavily publicised locally and nationally crime prevention advice through our "Lock Up and Light Up" campaign. All of this activity has seen residential burglaries reduce by 34% and non-residential burglaries down 23% since November 2015.
We have maintained that focus in 2018. This year up to the end of August, residential burglaries are down 17% on the same period last year. However, we will not be complacent, particularly when we are coming to the time of the year when burglaries traditionally increase due to the longer winter nights. We also know that, while we have significantly reduced burglaries, this is no comfort to those who are burglary victims or are in fear of being a victim, particularly elderly people living in isolated areas. In this regard, the winter phase of Operation Thor has started.
There will be increased patrolling and more checkpoints with a particular focus on criminal gangs and repeat offenders. The assistant commissioner for special crime operations is meeting all the detective superintendents from across the country tomorrow to reinforce this message.
I ask members of the public to lock up and light up, particularly in the evenings. During the winter, nearly 40% of burglaries happen between 5 p.m. and 10 p.m. Burglars are most likely to enter homes through the rear door or a window. I ask members of the public to use timer switches to make their homes look occupied, lock their doors and windows and not to keep large amounts of cash in the home. We also ask people to mark their property so that when we recover it, and we recover a large amount of property each year, we can return it to them. It is vital that people report crimes. We can only investigate crimes reported to An Garda Síochána and each and every crime is investigated.
Thefts from farms have fallen nationally by 8% in the past year, but again we are not being complacent. We fully recognise the terrible impact theft from farms can have on the livelihoods of farmers and their families and their sense of security. We are continuing to work with local communities, community groups and farming bodies to reduce farm theft. For example, this was a major focus for the Garda during the recent ploughing championships. We advise members of the farming community to restrict access to their yards, lock gates when not in use and ensure their property is well lit as more farm thefts occur at night than during the day. Farmers should also ensure that machinery, tools and vehicles are secured properly and details such as serial numbers and property markings are recorded and photographed.
In the context of community policing, An Garda Síochána is dedicated to policing with the consent and support of the community. We have a strong connection with the community we serve and maintaining and enhancing that bond is one of our key priorities. We recognise, however, that we need to change in this area. Society is changing at a rapid pace and we have to keep up. Society is demanding a more responsive service and we will meet that demand. With the numbers of gardaí starting to increase, we can put in place measures to deliver a policing service that is better positioned to address the concerns of local communities. We will ensure community policing is the ethos of policing in Ireland.
As identified by the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland, An Garda Síochána, like many police services around the world, has struggled to put in place structures and practices that support a truly community orientated police service. The commission acknowledged the work done and innovation shown by many excellent gardaí in this area but found that their implementation of community policing lacked specific direction. International research has shown that changing this requires more than just a technical fix. It needs restructuring, decentralisation of decision making, greater empowerment of front-line officers and, most critically, having an external focus where we regularly and actively listen and react to the needs of the community. It requires that all our personnel have a strong community orientation.
As the Garda Commissioner has said, the Commission on the Future of Policing provides the Garda Síochána with a pathway in this area and other areas to improve our service in conjunction with our policing partners. In this regard, following extensive research we are developing a new model of community policing based on delivering localised policing services to meet the differing needs of different communities. It will result in our systems and structures being reorganised with the aim of having a real and deep understanding of other communities and what citizens require from a modern police service. It will reinforce that communities and their needs are at the heart of the organisation. The division will co-ordinate all community issues and develop tailored policing responses to communities based on their needs. This approach will be part of the new proof of concept divisional policing model that we will introduce in four divisions, namely, Galway, Mayo, Cork city and Kevin Street, in the first quarter of 2019.
An Garda Síochána is a public service and must provide a quality service that meets the needs of the public. That is the focus of our approach to community policing and policing in general.