UK rural crimewave outrage as 258 officers left to fight | Politics | News

Just 258 police officers or 0.1% are dedicated to fighting rural crime in England and Wales. 

This was the finding from 37 forces who responded to a Lib Dem Freedom of Information request. 

No force had more than 1% of its officers and staff deployed to rural crime teams, with eight admitting not having such units, including Norfolk and West Yorkshire.

Commenting on the findings, Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey MP said: “Yet again, we are seeing the shocking neglect of our rural communities from this Conservative government. 

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“Local communities are worried sick about the impacts of rural crime, and to have such a small number of officers dedicated to tackling this serious issue is shocking. 

“No wonder so many cases are going unsolved and criminals are getting off the hook. 

“Right across the country, Police and Crime Commissioners have failed to tackle rural crime. 

“The role needs to be abolished so that resources can go into what really matters – improving frontline policing, including properly staffed rural crime teams.”

But Sussex Police & Crime Commissioner Katy Bourne OBE, who was re-elected to the role in 2021, warned the Lib Dems had shown a “naive understanding” of how modern British policing worked. 

She told the Express: “It was an absolute no-brainer to establish a rural crime unit for our county.

“I gave a guarantee that we would establish a rural crime team because my communities have been calling out for one.

“And that is what we have done in Sussex because 60% of our county is rural.”

Rural crime is defined by the National Rural Crime Network as “all crime and anti-social behaviour occurring in rural areas. This includes problems typically associated with the countryside such as wildlife and heritage crime, farm equipment and animal thefts”.

Pointing to crimes such as sheep rustling and oil theft, she said: “Our farmers have been quite clear they face issues that people living in larger cities such as Brighton do not face.

“So we have a dedicated team and they are kept very busy. 

“And for as long as I remain Police and Crime Commissioner we will maintain it.

“Saying less than 1% of the police force is dedicated to rural crime is a binary way of looking at it. 

“One of the great strengths of British policing is that you have got local, regional and national responses.”

She explained that machinery theft, for example, may require a more regional response whereas if those stolen goods were being shipped abroad then it would be escalated into a national response. 

She said: “So policing can share across not just forces but the entire region. 

“There are operational aspects of policing that work at all levels and that is a great strength.”  

A West Yorkshire Police spokesman said: “West Yorkshire Police operates Neighbourhood Policing Teams across all parts of its force area.

“As a result rural communities have their own dedicated Neighbourhood Policing Team officers who carry out policing according to the specific needs and priorities of their residents.”

A Norfolk Police spokesman said: “Norfolk Constabulary does not have a dedicated rural crime team but has two Rural Beat Managers (one of which has won Rural Crime Enforcer of the Year) who are supported by officers who have the skill of ‘Wildlife Crime Officer’. 

“Policing of our communities is the responsibility of all police officers based in our rural districts, and is a particular focus of the beat managers who work in them.”

A Lincolnshire Police spokesperson said: “It is so important to have a dedicated team for this area of policing, which quite often can go unnoticed. 

“Lincolnshire is a large rural county and as part of our commitment to support rural communities, we launched the Rural Crime Action Team (RCAT) in 2022. 

“This commitment means that we can focus on prevention, investigation and enforcement of offences that have a unique impact on rural communities, that we can develop our national lead on tackling Hare Coursing and work together to protect our heritage, wildlife and environment. 

“The team is made up of officers passionate about protecting Lincolnshire communities, targeting the criminals who come here to offend. 

“We have had cases of lead theft, along with other countryside offences. We understand how destructive these are to people’s livelihoods, and how damaging they can be emotionally to the victim. 

“We want perpetrators of these crimes to know we are here to catch them: do not consider committing the crime because we will bring you to justice.”

The Home Office was contacted for comment.

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