Rural crime is a policing priority. PC Bob Searle explains what is being done and how gamekeepers and country dwellers can get involved
With more than 2 million people living and working within the Thames Valley, and a significant proportion of these in rural areas, preventing, identifying and investigating incidents of rural crime is a policing priority. The Police Crime Commissioner recognised this when he made rural crime a Force priority in 2012, and because poaching and hare coursing are more prevalent in the Thames Valley area, we should focus our resources on these.
Because of the importance of rural crime prevention to our communities, Thames Valley Police responds to every single incident of rural crime. To help us do that, there is a dedicated rural crime team for the South Oxfordshire and Vale of White horse local police area. The team consists of a detective inspector, a sergeant and five constables. We are also lucky to have a number of special constables who have been trained in tackling rural crime and offer their services to the team by working in the area.
Hare coursing, poaching, theft and burglary
The rural crime team concentrates its efforts on the detection and prevention of hare coursing, poaching and theft and burglary, and has access to several vehicles, including 4x4s and a Kubota to enable them to reach the more remote areas. The team works closely with others from across the Force and, importantly, they have established close links with the rural community, including gamekeepers and farmers.
Other teams from Thames Valley Police play an important role in tackling and preventing rural crime. The neighbourhood police teams often work closely alongside the Rural Crime Team.
A three-day operation was held by the rural crime team and the Faringdon Neighbourhood Team. It focused on National Trust car parks on the Ridgeway and resulted in the arrest of three suspects on suspicion of theft from a motor vehicle.
Training is also offered to other teams across the Force, particularly to the “response” shift and neighbourhood teams, to keep them up to date with the relevant legislation and processes that have been put in place to deal with rural crime effectively.
The rural crime team also holds operations with people from outside of the Force. Overnight operations are often run with local gamekeepers, among others, where the gamekeepers act as “spotters” — reporting any unusual or suspicious activity to police officers who support the keepers and respond to any incidents.
Knowledge of the land
The involvement of the gamekeepers in these operations is invaluable because they have detailed knowledge of the land and are able to help us understand where our officers will be most useful. It is to their credit that they are willing to stay out with us until the early hours of the morning in addition to their day-to-day work.
In addition to different teams from within the Force working closely together, and operations run with local gamekeepers, Thames Valley Police also works with neighbouring Forces to tackle rural crime in their areas. A recent night-time operation that involved the use of ANPR (automatic number plate recognition), and included officers from Wiltshire Police, resulted in three arrests for night poaching. More cross-border operations are planned.
The reasoning behind working closely with rural communities and the organised operations is to focus on prevention. Crime reduction surveys are frequently carried out by the neighbourhood policing teams with advice being given about CCTV, target-hardening — that is, improving security — and property-marking, among other things. Often, simple tactics such as locking gates at the end of the day are the most effective, and a number of local farms have dug ditches around the fields which seem to be proving effective at keeping suspect vehicles off the land.
In addition to visits from officers in person, a rural text alert process called Country Watch has been put in place to allow the Force to get crime prevention advice out to rural communities, and warnings and advice if a crime does take place near where to the subscriber lives or works. When an incident of rural crime occurs, a text message or an email is sent to the geographical area immediately surrounding the location of the incident, meaning those who have subscribed to the scheme will receive information about the incident. This helps the Force to warn and advise residents, but because subscribers can respond to the emails by calling 101, it is beneficial for the Force because we suddenly have many eyes and ears out on the ground working with us.
Meetings are another way in which we try to prevent rural crime. We have held two meetings recently in which we were able to speak to those attending about what the police are doing to help them. Attendees were able to share their concerns with us and make suggestions on how we might improve our service to them.
We hold a meeting every three months with a smaller group where our performance can be assessed and plans made. In addition, we also hold a fortnightly police-only meeting in which we review reported incidents, trends in offending patterns and make plans to tackle rural crime in the future.
As Shooting Times has previously pointed out, the suspects in hare coursing and poaching offences are not the “romantic” characters of old, and poaching is not a “victimless crime”. Many of the suspects have an extensive criminal history that can include theft, burglary and violent crime. We work hard to help prevent people from becoming victims of rural crime, and we believe that working closely with rural communities is one of the most effective ways that we can do this.
There are plenty of ways that gamekeepers can get involved with policing and crime prevention in their area. Signing up for Country Watch alerts, calling 101 to speak with a rural crime officer to discuss attending the operations, conducting a security assessment of your home and business, and attending our meetings are all great places to start.
Bob Searle is a Police Constable in the Rural Crime Team, Thames Valley Police.
5 top tips for deterring poachers
- Report all incidents to the police and support prosecutions.
- Join the local equivalent of Country Watch.
- Consider cameras and alarms at vulnerable points.
- Maintain boundaries, keep fences in good order and consider ditches to deny access to vehicles.
- Keep all gates closed and locked.