Rural crime in the spotlight as survey seeks to find impact on communities
- Credit: Archant
People across Suffolk and Essex are being called on to reveal the true impact of rural crime.
Campaigners want a reverse in police workforce reductions, as businesses and residents of rural areas are consulted on their perception of crime.
A survey by the National Rural Crime Network (NRCN), which includes police and concerned groups, will ask communities if they feel isolated or at risk.
This paper produced its own live map of ram raids on rural shops in response to a spate of crimes across Suffolk and north Essex, where more than 20 incidents have taken place in 18 months.
Suffolk Police and Crime Commissioner and NRCN vice-chairman, Tim Passmore said: “Whether or not rural crime has become more of a problem is the point of this survey.
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“Overall, while areas like Suffolk are safer than others, it doesn’t mean we don’t a have problem in an absolute sense.”
Mr Passmore said the results would inform evidence for a fairer funding deal when the formula is revisited in the Spending Review.
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Publication of a revised formula, which allocates funding based crime indicators, was delayed in 2015 – and following the election last June.
Mr Passmore said: “We need to submit crucial evidence in our case to the Home Office.
“Successive governments of all colours have failed to re-evaluate the formula to take into account the changing pattern of crime and extra cost of policing rural areas. It may have been fit-for-purpose 20 years ago – but it isn’t now.”
Last week, National Farmers Union figures revealed the cost of rural crime increased 13% in 2017.
The union called for a review of funding to ensure adequate resources, and for a consistent approach to prosecutions.
The National Rural Crime Survey was last conducted in 2015, when the cost of crime to rural communities was estimated at £800 million a year.
Just 39% of rural residents regarded police performance as good or excellent in their area.
The same percentage were worried about becoming a victim, while more than one in four had chosen not report a crime.
The NRCN said low expectations had led to “under-reporting, anger, frustration and worry”.
Last March, Mr Passmore launched a rural policing strategy, involving 14 safer neighbourhood teams having a dedicated point of contact for rural crime.
It followed a local policing review the previous April and a ‘horseback volunteer’ scheme to put extra eyes in remote locations.
Mr Passmore will not be surprised to see evidence of the impact of gangs branching into rural and coastal towns via a network known as ‘county lines’.
“We mustn’t forget that rural areas are not immune to awful crimes like drug trafficking and serious violence,” he added.
“We know that those addicted to drugs can turn to acquisitive crime. We also know technology does not respect boundaries, and that online crime can be as prevalent as in urban areas.
“Evidence will also inform my conversations with the chief constable to make sure we strike the right balance.”
Katy Anderson, the region’s rural adviser for the CLA, said: “Our members are affected by a range of crimes – some specific to rural areas, others more general.
“Following the last survey, some felt there wasn’t a good enough response from police, but there have been good examples of improvement. Rural crime teams have done a brilliant job.
“We appreciate there has been a change in the policing structure, but it’s important to ensure the value of existing resources.
“We don’t want to lose them.”
Essex Police also has a dedicated team and launched a Rural Crime Strategy in 2017.
Jane Gardner, deputy police, fire and crime commissioner, said: “We know rural communities are often isolated and at risk of specific types of crime such as hare-coursing, theft, burglary or fly-tipping.
“We are fortunate to have active and engaged rural communities, who work with us and alongside Essex Police to report and help prevent crime. Together, we have been working to get better visibility of crime in rural communities, to understand what is important to local people and agree how we will tackle this.”
Chief Inspector Ian Gennery said proactive operations had united communities, policing teams and specialist officers to crack down on rural crime.
“This survey is a great way to get further engagement and identify areas for us to focus on in the future,” he added.
Answer the survey by June 10 at nationalruralcrimenetwork.net.
Union bosses have also called on the government and local authorities to take more action on fly-tipping.
The GMB union found that 75,447 incidents of fly-tipping cost councils in the East of England £4.3m to clear in 2016-2017, based on data from the Office of National Statistics.
Warren Kenny, regional secretary, said: “Government and local councils have to be more proactive in dealing with fly tipping.
“There needs to be better education on the costs of dealing with the problem, and how people can dispose of rubbish and unwanted items properly.
“Councils must invest in easy to access recycling and disposal facilities for residents to use and offer accessible collection schemes for bulk items.
“Finally, councils have to firmly clamp down on fly tipping by larger fines, investment in surveillance equipment and rigorous investigation of incidents and follow up action.”