SUBSTANDARD countryside policing is deterring more and more rural businesses from reporting crime despite its growing financial impact and the enormous emotional strain it causes, a new report published today reveals.
Rural communities are “living on the edge”, in fear of crime, fed up with the police and are feeling vulnerable, with farmers feeling singled out as targets, the National Rural Crime Network said.
More than 20,000 people across England and Wales responded to the network’s national rural crime survey earlier this year and 69 per cent of farmers and rural business owners said they had been a victim of crime in the past 12 months.
Since the last survey in 2015, perceptions of rural policing have worsened and ailing confidence in the police means the number of crimes going unreported has risen by a third among rural residents and two-thirds by businesses.
Just 27 per cent said the police were doing a good job, 11 per cent less than in 2015 and in the same period the average cost of crime to a rural business spiked by 13 per cent, to £4,800.
The Home Office insisted that police spending is increasing but Julia Mulligan, chair of the National Rural Crime Network, said funding is being sucked from the countryside as police forces focus on urban priorities.
Mrs Mulligan, who is also Police and Crime Commissioner for North Yorkshire where the force runs a dedicated rural taskforce, said the network’s report should serve as a wake up call to chief constables and the Government who need to shake off a preconception that rural communities are safe, prosperous places.
Speaking to The Yorkshire Post, she said: “We have to try to challenge the preconception that the countryside is perfectly safe, that it’s a place of pretty cottages with roses round the doorways.
“There are real challenges in the countryside that mustn’t be ignored.”
She added:“Crime is up. Anger is up. Frustration is up. Trust is down.
“With 10.3m people living in rural areas, these are trends we can no longer ignore.”
And rural communities should not have to tolerate “sub-standard” services just because of where they live, she added.
“Despite the passionate and professional police officers working incredibly hard day-in, day-out, them and the communities they serve are being let down because priorities lie elsewhere,” Mrs Mulligan said.
“It is incumbent on policing, partners and on Government and us all to listen, and to act.”
The network’s report makes ten recommendations, including the need for chief constables to change rural policing and for there to be a better understanding of rural crime and its impact.
Other calls are for a greater focus on farmers and specific rural businesses, for justice to be seen to be done by rural victims and for rural crime reporting to become easier.
The Countryside Alliance backed the report.
Its head of policy, Sarah Lee, said: “To address the challenges faced by rural communities and the police who serve them, we must work together and take heed of the recommendations.”
The National Farmers’ Union wants every police force to have a dedicated rural police team.
The Home Office said the Government had set out a comprehensive settlement to strengthen local, national and counter terrorism policing which means police funding will increase by over £460m this year, with around £280m from a precept going to forces to spend on local priorities.