Reviving Rural Policing

BY RUPERT MATTHEWS

In 2019, rural crime cost the UK £54.3million, the highest total cost in eight years with every region in the country seeing an increase in rural crime.

Rebecca Davidson, Rural Affairs Specialist for the NFU, wrote the following in the NFU’s 2020 Rural Crime Report:

‘Rural crime is like a wave as organized criminality spreads through our villages, farms and fells, affecting everyone in the countryside. Now as the economic impact of pandemic begins to bite, we are concerned that criminal activity could escalate – making it more important than ever that we work together to stem the tide’.

I am more than inclined to agree with Ms. Davidson.

Farms and farmers across Leicestershire and Rutland are under threat now more than ever from gangs of vandals and thieves. An increase in farm thefts is incredibly worrying for our two counties. Given how much of Leicestershire and Rutland are made up of rural areas, we cannot overlook the rise in such crimes. If we do, we seek to alienate a huge proportion of our counties’ residents. As it stands, thanks to Labour’s restrictive city-based approach to policing, our farms and villages are the ones feeling abandoned to begin with.

The Countryside Alliance carried out a survey in 2020 on views of their members towards the  Leicestershire police. The results speak for themselves. 83% of those surveyed thought rural crime had increased within the last 12 months. Even more worryingly, around 16% of rural crime was not reported directly to the police due to an overwhelming proportion of people – almost 75% – under the impression it would have been a waste of time and nothing would have been done.

The same survey continued to produce even more worrying data. More than half of those surveyed don’t think the police take rural crime seriously and less than half of those surveyed rated the police presence in their area as ‘good’ or ‘excellent’.

Rural communities are being let down and we cannot let this continue.

We cannot expect to suddenly rid Leicestershire of such crimes. Such an ask is impossible. We can however inject the necessary means into the Leicestershire police to equip them as best as possible to combat the crime before and after it happens, something the PCC Labour administration has continuously failed to do.

Farm thefts, even those which appear to have been committed by organized gangs, are never quite the same. A one-policy catch all system is not the right approach here. However, boosting the police presence in our beautiful Leicestershire villages and hamlets is a move in the right direction.

I’ve long been a proponent for seeing a rejuvenation of the ‘bobbies-on-the-beat’ where the local copper does his rounds regularly, chatting to the locals and building up solid and trusting relationships between the public and the police. And police can be visible in other ways too. Information stands at village fetes, point to points and other events will allow the police to talk to the public, and the public to talk to the police. Proactive drives to inform people who live in our villages and rural areas about crime prevention, and what to do if a crime does occur to help the police gain a conviction should also be undertaken.

We need increased police visibility, increased community policing and increased rural policing.

By rebuilding relationships between rural localities and the police, we increase the chance of reporting crimes, which therefore increases the likelihood of gaining evidence. With more evidence, we can draw more trends which then makes prevention easier.

The police also need to work with their colleagues outside of our two counties. Much of the farm machinery and vehicles stolen here are whisked out of the country by organized gangs to be sold abroad – often in Eastern Europe. Those criminal distribution routes need to be closed down.

For too long, Labour have overlooked the welfare of farms and farmers alike. A blinkered city centric approach to governing is irreversibly damaging farmers relationship with the police.

I say we need to rebuild this relationship – we owe it to our farmers.

Rupert Matthews is the Conservative Party’s candidate to be Police and Crime Commissioner for Leicestershire and Rutland.