Bedfordshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner, Kathryn Holloway teamed up with the National Farmers Union (NFU) and Bedfordshire Police to fight rural crime in Bedfordshire in a tactics and planning session to "stamp out crime that takes place because of its country location".
The event at Scald Farm in North Bedfordshire on Tuesday 19th November 2019 was the third annual conference held by the PCC with the NFU, working together to make full use of the farming community’s network and local knowledge, as well as promoting better coordination, planning and information sharing to tackle crime. The aim of the event was to share knowledge and to plan a coordinated strategy for the upcoming year, with commitments from each group over the specific actions they will be taking.
The PCC was accompanied by Bedfordshire’s Chief Constable, Garry Forsyth, and members of Bedfordshire Police's rural crime team, which is now the largest in the whole of the seven force Eastern region.
Commissioner Holloway said “My Police and Crime Plan specifies as a priority that we must give a fair share of policing to those who live in the country, just as we do to those who live in our towns so it’s absolutely imperative that we work with farmers and residents of rural parishes and produce a consistent approach from policing to crimes which take place because they occur in these locations.”
She pointed out that certain crimes in the country require specialist knowledge from officers encountering them, such as illegal hunting, hunt saboteur activity and hare coursing which the rural crime team is working to spread on a force wide basis.
The PCC introduced members of Bedfordshire Police’s rural crime specialist team, known as Op Sentinel Rural, and explained that police need farmers to stand by them and give evidence after police action such as a recent countywide crackdown on hare coursers.
The event also publicised the launch of the Force's new rural crime handbook, put together by its Crime Reduction Officer, with contributions from partners including the National Farmers’ Union (NFU), the Environment Agency, the Home Office and local farmers. The handbook contains advice on crimes which affect Bedfordshire’s rural communities and how to recognise emerging crime types such as modern day slavery.
"Targeted operations concerning cars and vans that haven’t been appropriately insured, taxed or which are without MOTs, have deprived those involved in criminality in the countryside of the use of the road. We’ve worked with neighbouring forces and have focused on matters such as hare coursing together to prevent damage to crops and the illegal betting of tens of thousands of pounds on the outcomes,” said the PCC.
Chief Constable Garry Forsyth explained the wider demands of Bedfordshire Police, including details of the drugs mapping exercise carried out by the Force which had established that the Bedfordshire market for heroin and cocaine alone was equal to the entire force budget per year.
Oliver Rubinstein, from the NFU, said: “Rural crime is an enormous issue for farmers in Bedfordshire and nationally is estimated to have cost the UK £50m last year. Unfortunately many farmers have already had to take quite dramatic steps to limit their vulnerability, such as blocking off field entrances and digging ditches, however, this handbook is a valuable resource that we can share with members to help them make sure they’ve taken all the necessary steps.”
The PCC also reminded the audience of the anonymous crime reporting line set up by the NFU and Crimestoppers on the freephone line 0800 7830137 and website - www.ruralcrimereportingline.uk.
The rural crime team also raised the importance of the ‘What3words’ app. What3words was designed to be able to assign a 3m square to anywhere in the world to identify a location to police and other blue light services in an emergency. Officers explained that this is especially important for the farmers in Bedfordshire in remote rural locations as it allows the force control room to find them in seconds.
NFU members committed to using their dedicated WhatsApp group, which passes information to police, to give such details so it does not become over-crowded with comment instead.
“Before I became PCC, the NFU promised me that they would become a rural crime intelligence network, in effect, and that’s exactly what they’ve done. They’ve even helped us in operations, linked by radio, to crack down on country crime like hare coursing or fly tipping and we couldn’t do it as we are without them,” said the PCC.
The Rural Crime Team can be contacted by email - opsentinel.rural@Bedfordshire.pnn.police.uk. There is also a WhatsApp group that is open for members of the rural community to join, for more information the team can be contacted on this same email address.