Rural communities make up a huge part of our population in Devon and Cornwall. With three areas of moorland, a vast coastal area and farmland in between, we really do have a unique geography. From daffodil farms in west Cornwall to chicken factories in east Devon, agriculture is one of the most vital industries in the region for both our economy and wellbeing.
Not only do these relatively small and often family-run businesses employ a huge number of people in the region, they are also caretakers of our countryside and fulfil the rather important role of feeding us all.
Because of their vital role in society I am keen to make sure farms and businesses in rural areas are well protected from thieves who threaten livelihoods by stealing equipment, produce and more.
The evidence suggests there is a significant amount of work to do in this area. The 2018 Rural Crime Survey, organised by the National Rural Crime Network, shows that 52% of Devon and Cornwall farmers and rural-specific business owners were victims of crime in the previous 12 months, with 26% worried about becoming one in the future.
I am also concerned that this still isn’t an accurate picture because so much rural crime goes unreported – the Rural Crime Network estimates that a third of all rural crimes is not reported to the police. Perhaps because farmers and business people in these areas feel disconnected from their police force and that nothing will be done to help them. This is something I want to change.
For the first time Devon and Cornwall Police now have two PCs working exclusively on rural issues – PC Martin Beck in Devon and PC Chris Collins in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly.
They will work in partnership with local neighbourhood teams, wildlife officers and other staff to deliver effective problem solving. Their key areas of focus will be: theft of farm machinery and vehicles, livestock offences, fuel theft, equine offences, poaching (working together with wildlife crime officers) and fly tipping (as members of the national action group).
I am also incredibly proud to announce that this week my team, alongside these new officers will be holding their first rural crime surgery at Mole Valley Farmers in Cullompton. Anyone is welcome to attend the event on Wednesday, February 27, where PC Beck and members of my team will be available to speak to about general crime prevention advice, emerging issues in the area and you’ll also be able to report crimes here.
We will be holding at least one rural surgery a month, spreading our time across the two counties ensuring we get to meet people who can often feel forgotten by policing.
Keep up to date with when and where all the upcoming surgeries will be on the OPCC website – www.devonandcornwall-pcc.gov.uk or follow the rural officers on Twitter. You can follow PC Beck in Devon at @DCPoliceRural_D and PC Chis Collins in Cornwall at @DCPoliceRural_C for more information.
Being able to build an accurate picture of criminal activity and gathering good intelligence is vital for the police to be able to plan and allocate resources effectively. Engaging with our rural communities is just one way in which we can better understand these important issues.
Good public engagement aims to bring people and communities together to address issues of common importance, solve shared problems and bring about positive change. When done well it gives a voice to those who have traditionally been left out of political and policy debates. And, I believe our rural communities have felt this for a long time. I am very proud of the way my office has improved the way we converse with the public. We’ve got better at it every year by testing new ways to get our message out, new ways of listening to voices and new ways for you to influence the way communities are policed.
These rural crime surgeries are just one of the ways we can better learn from and ensure these communities feel included in policing.
Anyone wanting to report rural crime can do so via 999 if an emergency (or if the perpetrator is on the scene) or, in a non-emergency, use 101.
A dedicated rural Crimestoppers reporting line, for reports about machinery theft, livestock theft , large-scale, industrial fly-tipping and hare coursing only and run in partnership with the NFU, can be contacted on 0800 783 0137 or via an online form at https://forms.theiline.co.uk/ruralcrimereportingline.
It is in all our interests that rural communities are able to thrive and flourish. I hope that the results of the next rural crime survey show a more encouraging picture and look forward to working with the force to make that aspiration a reality.