Crime has always been a key issue throughout the countryside, but this has only risen up the national agenda over the last few years, thanks to a growing awareness of the problems rural communities are facing.
However, this increased awareness is often not felt by the communities that live and work in the countryside, with 47% of people who responded to our 2020 Rural Crime Survey telling us they don’t think the police take rural crime seriously and 38% said that they have had a crime committed against them in the last 12 months.
The extent of crime in rural areas is only part of the problem. For many people, whether they have fallen victim to crime or not, the simple fear of crime can have as great a detrimental effect on their quality of life as the actual experience of crime itself. The effect of long-term emotional stress, loss of confidence - particularly among young people, families and farmers - should not be underestimated. This fear of crime is also exacerbated by rural isolation.
We are also concerned that the people who make up these communities don’t get the support through public services that are more 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, for which there is simply no excuse.
The crimes which were recorded as the most frequently committed in rural areas, include fly-tipping, agricultural machinery theft and trespass [trespass is not in itself criminal unless aggravated], with respondents wanting the police to prioritise tackling these crimes.
Additionally, according to the survey, there is a serious problem of crime being underreported in rural areas, with one in four not reporting crime they were a victim of. Those surveyed felt it was either a waste of time to report it or that the police would not be able to do anything. This is why 47% of people don’t think the police take rural crime seriously and 57% of people don’t think rural policing has improved since Police and Crime Commissioners were introduced in 2012.
The implication of these findings 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 crime 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 so that the availability of services matches those needs.
It is clear from these results that there is a lot to do in tackling rural crime and working with communities to ensure the impact of it is lessened, and to tackle the crime problems rural communities face.