Published: 22 August 2016 at 10:28
VIEWPOINT: Anglia Ruskin's new Chair of Policing Institute for the Eastern Region (PIER) talks about the reduction of rural crime in Essex.
By Nick Alston
I was delighted to read recently that reported losses to rural crime in Essex had reduced by 39% in 2015 compared with 2014. The insurers, NFU Mutual, publish an excellent survey each year, which you can read here. As Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) for Essex, I felt unable to make rural crime a top priority however I had strongly encouraged Essex Police to keep a focus on it and to engage with the rural community.
So, a welcome 39% reduction in a county which is highly vulnerable to rural crime feels like a great achievement. But should I, or Essex Police, claim any credit? As a politician I would not have hesitated, but now as Chair of the new Policing Institute for the Eastern Region (PIER), which is based at Anglia Ruskin University, I have to acknowledge that I have no idea which, if any, of the measures we took in Essex had an impact on the level of crime.
This is the sort of problem that PIER is setting out to address. Which measures really work to reduce crime? At a time when the police face severe resource challenges and with many new and worrying crimes to tackle, it's really important that we use resources efficiently and engage with communities in a way that encourages effective crime prevention.
In Essex, over the past three years, the police have set up and trained a highly motivated team of Rural Special Constables with funding support from the PCC. They have gotten to know the communities they serve and I believe have become increasingly effective. You can follow them on Twitter @EPRuralSpecials. We also introduced a targeted messaging system, Essex Community Messaging (ECM).
As PCC, I funded Neighbourhood Watch and the wider family of ‘Watch’ schemes including some very effective Farm Watch schemes. I also created a regular forum where representatives of the wider rural community met with Essex Police to look at issues such as high value agricultural plant theft, hare coursing and illegal interference with badger setts as well as cyber-crime and the full range of offences that occur in any community like vandalism and domestic violence. I also made available detailed data on crime in the rural areas so that the discussions could be well informed.
Rural crime couldn’t be a top a priority, but it did receive steady and focussed attention from some excellent police officers and staff. So what did contribute to the 39% reduction? A strong local focus with community involvement? Professional work by the crime prevention officers and the Rural Specials? The strength of the partnerships that were established? Or the leadership that a group of us were able to bring? I wish I knew and my hope is that the work of PIER can help bring answers to questions like these. With that information, we can then confidently invest to make the next inroads into this and other areas of crime.