Addressing the challenge of rural crime
The Chief Constable of Kent has recently reported that since June 2015 there has been an overall increase in rural crime levels of 11.9%.
Tackling rural crime presents a number of challenges, with scarce police resources spread across a wide area including many remote and hard to reach locations. The perception of crime is also a major issue in rural areas where people can feel more isolated and vulnerable than in urban areas where policing is often more visible.
Some offences are specific to the countryside; such as poaching and hare coursing. However, the phrase “rural crime” is also used to refer to general crime committed in rural areas. Particular issues which have been identified include the theft of agricultural machinery and vehicles, criminal damage and the theft of livestock.
Fly tipping, which is generally policed by local authorities, is also a recurring problem. It causes financial harm to the landowner as well as environmental damage. The recent introduction of fixed penalty notices should help to streamline the punishment of offenders in some case.
There is almost always a multiplier effect when crime is committed in a rural area. Mike Bax of BTF is the Chairman of the Crime Rural Advisory Group (CRAG) and gives an example: “The theft of a battery from an electric fencing unit will lead to livestock escape. That can lead to property damage, road accident, disease risk and unplanned labour commitment.”
In 2014 Kent Police launched the Rural Task Force (RTF) with 6 officers dedicated to dealing with rural crime. These officers have specialist training and knowledge of rural crime and their local communities. The Police also liaise with key stakeholders through the CRAG.
Mike Bax says: “The involvement of the local community is a fundamental requirement. With minimal resources, policing on a reactive basis is unlikely to show many successes. However, policing on the basis of good intelligence and information from the local community will and does produce results.”
Reporting criminal activity is an essential first step. Unless the police know about an offence they will not be able to investigate. Under reporting may also give a misleading picture of the true level of crime leading to allocation of resources elsewhere, poorer detection rates, disillusionment amongst the victims of crime and thus further under reporting.
If a crime is in progress then it should be reported using the 999 number. Non-emergency reports can be made on the 101 number. It is also possible to report anonymously via Crime Stoppers on 0800 555 111. In 2015 Kent Police and CRAG developed an information sharing app called Country Eye. Through the app the public can help the police to gather information about crimes and incidents in rural areas. Users can send GPS linked photographs to the police using their smart phones.
Another key contribution from the community is to make it harder for the criminals to offend by ensuring that they have appropriate security measures in place. For example, keeping valuable equipment locked away, maintaining good gates and fencing, installing CCTV (ensure you consider compliance with the Data Protection Act) and marking property with the owner’s details.
Experience tells us that effective prevention and detection requires a joint effort between the public and the agencies tasked with enforcing the law.