I am Chair of the Kent Policeâ€™s Crime Rural Advisory Group (CRAG).Â This comprises an active group of rural stakeholders such as Country Landowners Association, NFU, National Gamekeepers organisation, Countryside Alliance, English Heritage and many others.
The group is joined by officers from Kent Police and we focus on improving communication Â and Â intelligence Â contacts, Â as Â well Â as Â having Â targeted Â input Â into operational planning.
The age-old problem persists which is how to encourage people to report rural crime. The perception is that response times are too slow, meaning that there is very rarely a â€œpositiveâ€ result in the form of an arrest. People reach the stage where they only report in order to get a crime number for their insurance claim.
The pattern of rural crime varies from area to area. In some areas it may be true that most crime is local, but in Kent it is certainly the case that organised crime groups target machinery and heritage assets amongst others. They may use locals to do the job, but the direction comes from away.
What becomes more and more apparent is the impact of many rural crimes drives deeper and wider than is apparent at first sight.
Take the field of 50 breeding ewes, being flushed on young grass, behind electric fencing, before going to the ram on 1 November. However, on 1 October the electric fencing unit and battery is stolen and the fence driven over by a truck probably carrying illegal hare coursers. The field is wet and gets badly rutted. The sheep escape and get in with neighboursâ€™ rams. The Rural Payments Agency charges a penalty against Single Farm Payment because of rutting and failure to keep land in good condition. The ewes produce Â less Â lambs Â and Â a Â month Â early, Â putting Â spring Â farm Â workÂ under Â pressure, requiring casual labour to be hired. Professional advice is required for dealing with RPA. The loss of fencing unit and battery cost Â£50. The consequential losses cost thousands.
These multiplier effects on simple incidents illustrate the impact of even day to day rural crime with such events generally affecting the community at large, rather than just an individual. Nevertheless, the events are so commonplace, that the rural community consistently fails to report and somehow we have to change that mindset.
The Police tackle the problem to the best of their ability, but they are thinly spread, and intelligence is the key. With thousands of people spread across the rural areas people must learn that it is not a failure if the Police do not make an arrest. The very fact that the incident has been made known to the Police provides them with intelligence. PerhapsÂ the identity of a vehicle, a description of the clothes the offender was wearing or a boot print in the mud, but this intelligence will be vital on another occasion. Furthermore, regular Â reporting Â by Â theÂ community Â provides Â theÂ PoliceÂ with Â informationÂ onÂ crime patterns. Using that they can make predictions and be in the right place at the right time more often, thereby responding more effectively.
The new Crimestoppers Rural Crime Campaign provides a fantastic opportunity for the rural community to get engaged. Crimestoppers are seeking to create increased awareness of the need to report and specific awareness of what Crimestoppers does. If you report on 0800 555111, you are doing so anonymously. Nobody knows itâ€™s you, but the Police gain intelligence of immense value and Crimestoppers information leads to arrests time and time again.
In Kent, not only does this have vital importance through the general rural community, but it should be highly effective in the large population of seasonal agricultural workers who come to the county every summer. Generally, they do not wish to engage as language problems and so on make engagement with the law a real hassle. All they actually have to do is ring Crimestoppers. Their call is anonymous, and they will have got something off their chest that may have been worrying them deeply over a long period.