Rural policing comes under fire as reports launched
- Credit: Gregg Brown
Rural policing has come under fire with the publication of two reports this week, and figures which suggest country dwellers are fed up with the service they receive.
The 2018 National Rural Crime Survey, organised by the National Rural Crime Network, found the perception of policing in rural communities is poor, and much worse than in urban areas, with the proportion who believe local police do a good job 11% lower than in 2015 at 27%. This is dramatically lower than the national figure from the Crime Survey of England and Wales which found 62% of respondents rate the police in their area as good or excellent.
Meanwhile, National Farmers’ Union (NFU) deputy president and Essex farmer Guy Smith said rural communities were becoming increasingly frustrated by police responses to rural crime as the National Police Chiefs Council Rural Affairs Strategy was launched following input from organisations including his, with its Rural Crime Report playing a ‘key role’ in developing priority areas.
“Farmers and rural businesses are on the frontline of crime in the countryside and are feeling more vulnerable as they experience the brunt of rural crime,” he said. “The NFU told the National Police Chiefs Council earlier this year that farms should not become a ‘soft target’ for criminals but unfortunately we are seeing the levels of rural crime increase.”
The National Rural Crime Survey found the proportion rating local police as good or excellent at crime prevention and reduction was 11% lower than in 2015.
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However, the response pattern to the survey was uneven, with by far the highest from North Yorkshire (2,514). Fourth highest was Essex (1,320) and in Suffolk just 168 people responded, the 30th highest, compared to 322 responses from Cambridgeshire and 106 from Norfolk.
Fly-tipping and speeding dominated the list of concerns with 57% seeing evidence of flytipping and 32% evidence of speeding in their communities in the last 12 months. While most respondents knew councils are responsible for fly-tipping, there was a clear view that not enough is being done and that councils can no longer cope given their financial constraints, the report found.
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National Rural Crime Network chair Julia Mulligan said: “These results are stark and worrying. Crime is up. Anger is up. Frustration is up. Trust is down. Those rating the police as good is down. With 10.3m people living in rural areas, these are trends we can no longer ignore.”
CLA East regional director Ben Underwood said the results of the survey were worrying, and confirmed “the hard reality” of how country dwellers view rural crime. “The findings chime with what we are regularly told by our members across the eastern region who speak of feeling isolated and that police responses to their calls and concerns are often not taken seriously enough,” he said.
Suffolk Police and Crime Commissioner Tim Passmore said he wasn’t surprised at the survey findings, and a lot were applicable to the county. “There are lessons for us,” he said. Having been a farmer, he understood the problems with issues of isolation, poor connectivity and longer response times. “I’ve said for many years policing is not all about urban areas.”
Suffolk’s funding settlement was a big issue, with its per head allocation from central government close to the bottom of the national table, he said, and this needed to be rebalanced. But within those limitations, a rural crime strategy was launched in 2017 and he hoped to build on its successes, possibly following up on its ‘volunteers on horseback’ with a ‘volunteers on tractors’ scheme. Funding, better infrastructure, and more joined up services all needed to be addressed, he said.
Roger Hirst, Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner for Essex, admitted rural crime as a big problem, and a new rural crime strategy had been launched in the county last year. “Over three quarters of Essex is classified as rural and rural crime accounts for nearly a third of all crime reported in our county.” It was “really positive” that the majority of recommendations in the report were already in place, he said.