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We all know how frustrating it can be. You are out on the shoot doing your daily rounds and you come across someone up to no good, engaged in a spot of poaching or fly-tipping. As a keeper you can ask them to leave or you can call the police and hope they arrive in time to make an arrest. But what if you are doing your rounds in a police Land Rover and you happen to be a keeper and a copper?

That is exactly what Richard Downs is ? a keeper on a Hertfordshire farm and a Hertfordshire Police rural special constable. He is a member of a fairly new police initiative, the brainchild of Inspector George Holland, who is the driving force behind this remarkable scheme.

The Hertfordshire Police rural specials scheme is based on the use of Community Police Support Offi cers (CPSOs) but it has a particular twist. The Hertfordshire concept of a rural special is that they will only ever have to police the patch that they live and work on ? so that means no calls away to look after the crowd at a football match or to keep the peace during a Friday night in town. Within reason, they can pick and choose the hours they work and simply log on and off with the control room to let them know when they are on patrol and where. So a keeper such as Richard is able to police his estate as well as the neighbours? while going about his everyday business. The concept is perfect for keepers, farmers and those involved with equestrian work who are the eyes and ears of the countryside and who need to remain there, not least to look after their animals.

As Richard says, ?It?s been a real talking point. Many local people felt there was never a police presence in rural areas and have been surprised to see me out in the early mornings and late evenings. And because I know the local people they have been providing me with information about suspicious activity, which they may not otherwise have reported.?

Of course, keepers have been informally policing the countryside ever since they were first employed. Before World War I and up until World War II gamekeepers were often encouraged to become special constables by their employers. It wasn?t until policing became more urbanised that this practice changed and almost died out. Inspector Holland thinks this was wrong and sees his new band of rural specials as a vital tool in the fight against countryside crime.

?With the support of their regular colleagues, these special constables have the ability to transform policing activities in rural districts,? he says, adding, ?They have shown how effective this can be in practice and the positive feedback from the communities they serve is testament to the success of this pioneering initiative.?

Commenting on Richard and his colleagues, Inspector Holland adds, ?Individuals like him are the reason this policing activity is growing and developing, helping to reduce the crimes and criminal behaviour that has such a disproportionate impact on the quality of lives of those who live and work in the rural areas of our county?.

From the National Gamekeepers? Organisation?s (NGO) perspective, the fact that people are now welcoming ?keeper coppers? like Richard can only be good for the reputation of gamekeeping. Richard has been given a fully marked police Land Rover, complete with blue lights, that was funded partly by the local community. Just imagine the shock on the faces of illegal hare coursers when the local keeper turns up in that! With the harvest underway, Richard knows (as we all do) that the dog men will be back because of easier access and the wide open stubbles. His police vehicle being regularly seen on patrol in the area will be a deterrent in its own right. Add in the mounted rural specials as well and the criminals may well think the cavalry has turned out to see them off.

In my work for the NGO training police officers I have met dedicated and enthusiastic policemen and women who come from rural backgrounds and want to help us all fi ght rural crime. Not all forces have been able to do quite as much as Hertfordshire but they are all trying to do their bit to tackle the issue in different ways. Wiltshire Police, for example, runs covert operations using game and river keepers as spotters. The keepers are issued with radios and can contact a dedicated local unit directly to inform them of any suspicious vehicles or activities that might need investigating. The unit will respond quickly ? and the system is already showing good results.

The National Gamekeepers? Organisation (www.nationalgamekeepers.org.uk) can help any constabulary improve its rural policing work. Interested parties should contact Tim Weston, tel 07590 885512.