A new police strategy to win over rural communities and restore their confidence in South Yorkshire Police has been drawn up following talks with farmers.
South Yorkshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner Dr Alan Billings said he believed the force had been missing such a strategy at a time of major upheaval within its ranks.
It’s very easy for rural issues to slip down the agenda.Dr Alan Billings, South Yorkshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner
Farmers are concerned that the force lacks the resources from government to tackle rural crime, fears heightened by a report this week that revealed more than 700 police staff jobs are set to be lost from the force in the next four years.
Nevertheless, South Yorkshire Police pledged to improve its communication with rural residents. As part of the force’s new rural crime strategy a Farm Watch scheme has been mooted. The scheme operates much like Neighbourhood Watch in urban areas and will allow police and the farming community to share live crime alerts.
To mend broken confidence in the police, local farmers will soon have a dedicated Police Community Support Officer (PCSO) who will act as their single point of contact for any crime concerns.
The force has also committed to improved training for police call handlers to accurately report rural incidents.
Complemented by pro-active police operations targeting criminals in known trouble hotspots, Dr Billings believes the measures agreed after talks with farmers this week will make a difference.
Dr Billings said: “We think the Farm Watch scheme is a crucial part in building up the confidence of farmers to report crime to police. And from the police side, we realise that a single point of contact is vital, providing farmers with a name and telephone number so they can get through immediately to the right officer.”
Penistone and Stocksbridge’s Labour MP Angela Smith, who represents one of the most rural constituencies in South Yorkshire, said she was pleased that the force was taking rural crime seriously.
“Hopefully, by meeting and discussing the issue a full strategy to deal with the different sort of crime you find in rural areas will now be developed,” she said.
“It is important that farmers have a point of contact and I am pleased this is now being acted on, with three PCSOs and two wildlife officers identified for this important liaison work.”
She vowed to keep raising the issue of rural crime with government, saying it was important that rural communities are not “left in the cold” in an era of government-imposed austerity.
Chris Dickinson, a county adviser for the National Farmers’ Union who has helped organise meetings between local farmers and police, said: “The events of recent weeks, with young animals shot seemingly for fun, have left everyone shocked but I am pleased with the response we have had from the police.
“If we can get Farm Watch re-established that alone would be a great outcome as we have seen how successful such initiatives can be. It is reassuring to see that action on the ground is already apparent.”
It is not easy for police forces serving large urban centres to keep rural crime high up their agendas, according to Dr Billings.
“South Yorkshire is a mixed area, it’s not like North Yorkshire which is predominantly rural, and it’s very easy for rural issues to slip down the agenda.”
He said it was also tricky for forces to balance priorities when drawing up budgets because of additional government demands for resources, such as the current directive for more armed response officers in urban areas as part of counter terrorism efforts.
SHOOTINGS THAT LEFT EASTER LAMBS DEAD
According to Superintendent Neil Thomas, livestock shootings in South Yorkshire are not new, but a recent spate still left the community shocked.
The new rural crime strategy follows a second shooting at a farm in Hatfield near Doncaster last week. Twenty lambs were killed or had to be put down following two shootings in a week.