Last week I spoke at the Neighbourhood Watch summer seminars on crime and was asked to highlight the issues rural communities faced. I made the point that crime has always been a key issue throughout the countryside but that it has risen in the national agenda over the last few years thanks to a growing awareness of the problems rural communities are facing. Whether it is fly-tipping, hare poaching, sheep worrying or everyday crimes such as anti-social behaviour, speeding or burglary – it is important that these offences are reported to ensure that rural crime is taken seriously, as all too often it is not. Equally, some of the more unique crimes in rural areas such as sheep rustling, or agricultural machinery theft and their impacts are simply not understood.
The extent of crime in rural areas in only part of the problem. The 2018 National Rural Crime Network (NRCN) survey made for stark reading and shone a light on the extent of some of the problems rural communities face. For many people, whether they have fallen victim to these offences or not, the simple fear of crime itself can have a greater detrimental effect on their quality of life than the actual experience of it. The effect of long-term emotional stress, loss of confidence - particularly among young people, families and farmers - and other mental health considerations, which are only exacerbated by rural isolation, should not be underestimated.
We are also concerned that the people who make up these communities don’t get the support through services that are otherwise widely available in urban areas. Coupled with an absence of a visible police presence and the fact that rural crime is often not taken seriously, it is leaving those rural businesses and communities feeling undervalued and even more isolated, which there is simply no excuse for.
According to the NRCN survey, there is a serious problem of crime being underreported in rural areas, with more than one in four not reporting the last crime they were a victim of because they either felt it was a waste of time or that the police would not be able to do anything about it. Unfortunately, this is leading to inaccurate statistics of the reality of crime in rural areas.
The implication of these facts is that we have a rural population simply putting up with the crime they experience and making do as best they can. There is often no escape from the effects of rural crime, with the fear of falling victim to it doing just as much damage as the crimes that are committed. Good rural policing is about far more than numbers of police officers on the ground. If we truly want to tackle rural crime, then we must form effective partnerships between the police, rural communities and other authorities to ensure that the needs of our rural communities are truly understood, and that the availability of services matches those needs.