A couple of weeks ago I had the pleasure of addressing a Country Landowners and Business Association seminar on rural crime at Higham, near Bury St Edmunds.
The setting was quite spectacular – the meeting was held in a converted thatched barn which, having been restored to its former glory, is now used for holding events and functions instead of its original purpose of storing crops. This old building is a great illustration of how, in response to changing times, we adapt our way of life whilst maintaining strong links to our past. Exactly the same principles apply in society as we experience an enormous change in the pattern of crime, particularly in rural areas.
The challenge for policing rural Suffolk is considerable. The population is nearly three quarters of a million strong, the area is over 1500 square miles, there’s a long coastline, more than 450 individual parishes and a huge length of antiquated roads! Despite covering a huge geographical area, we have one of the lowest cost police forces in the country (42p per day per resident compared to a national average of 52p). We are a predominantly rural county but I can reassure everyone that cutting rural crime will continue to be a major priority for Suffolk Police.
So what’s being done to combat crime in rural Suffolk? Over the last four years two dedicated rural crime teams have been established, supported by members of the Special Constabulary, who have a comprehensive understanding of our rural way of life and countryside economy. This dedicated resource has helped the Constabulary to achieve some excellent results in dealing with areas of criminal activity such as hare coursing (reported cases have declined by over 80% in three years) and its great news that Suffolk remains one of the lowest crime areas for plant and machinery thefts and wildlife crime. By working with other organisations such as the Diocese and heritage bodies there have been major successes in tackling heritage crime and reported incidents of metal theft have also continued to decline. I am sure that much of this success is down to the fact that the rural crime teams are properly equipped with some of the best vehicles and intelligence systems such as automatic number plate recognition (ANPR).
I’m also really pleased to have given the Constabulary extra resources for roads policing, speeding enforcement and the new motorcycle road casualty reduction team. Suffolk’s road network is the vital in helping to keep homes and businesses connected but we must remember driving on many countryside roads can be quite dangerous. Most of our road network probably started as narrow lanes for horse and carts to connect local villages and market towns to each other. But as I said earlier, times change and as we cannot realistically alter the road network we should all try and improve our driving standards to make our roads safer.
Finally I’d like to pay tribute to the large “army” of volunteers, such as the Specials in the rural team, who help to keep Suffolk safe and make such a positive difference to life in our county. In the future there will be new challenges and the work of the voluntary sector will be even more important. Perhaps we can think of Suffolk as that old barn – remaining strong and proud whilst adapting to meet new challenges. So as we all work together and look after each other we can be confident about keeping rural Suffolk safe and secure - after all, it is the way we are in this super county.
-- Tim Passmore is Police and Crime Commissioner for Suffolk