CRIME levels in rural areas are likely to be far higher than previously thought because local people lack faith in policing and often don’t report incidents, a major new study reveals today.
The National Rural Crime Network (NRCN) said the true cost of crime to rural communities in England and Wales could be more than £800m – an amount which dwarfs previous estimates and equates to £200 for every household in the countryside.
The figure, drawn from a survey of over 17,000 people living and working in rural areas, is 21 times higher than the annual amount estimated by countryside insurer NFU Mutual.
The survey found a “vicious circle” of low expectations of the police, leading to chronic under-reporting of crime, frustration and subsequent worry about crime levels.
Julia Mulligan, chairwoman of the NRCN and Police and Crime Commissioner for North Yorkshire, acknowledged the findings make “uncomfortable reading” and said they should act as a “wake-up call” to police forces. She also warned against cuts to policing in rural areas.
Richard Pearson, regional director of the NFU, called for a “robust plan of action” to tackle rural crime.
The survey found young families and farmers are the most frequent victims of crime, with the average cost of crimes being £2,500 for a household and £4,100 for a business.
Just 39 per cent of people in rural areas rated the police as good or excellent, compared to a national figure of 63 per cent. Among rural businesses this figure was just 32 per cent. The survey showed satisfaction levels drop to just 23 per cent when it comes to the rural public’s perceptions of the police’s ability to solve crime.
The report also found crime is significantly under-reported in rural areas with more than one in four (27 per cent) not reporting the last crime of which they were a victim. Consequently, the Home Office figure of 294,000 rural crimes between April 2014 and May 2015 could be incorrect and the actual number of crimes could be as high as 403,000.
At the same time, fear of crime is increasing with 39 per cent of rural people very or fairly worried about becoming a victim, compared to 19 per cent nationally. The survey found 32 per cent of respondents are more fearful of becoming victims of crime than five years ago, compared to only three per cent who are less fearful. Rural businesses are the most concerned, with 51 per cent very or fairly fearful of experiencing crime, closely followed by younger families.
Mrs Mulligan said: “Some of the findings in this report make uncomfortable reading but it is vitally important for the reality of rural crime to be fully acknowledged and acted upon. Its actual scale is clearly much greater than we had previously known; £800m is a big number.
“The low satisfaction rates also need to be a wake up call for police forces in rural areas and everything should be done to harness the opportunities presented. Good, accessible local policing is central to this and I believe police forces which significantly shrink their local teams in rural areas do so at their peril.”
The NRCN report makes seven recommendations including fair police funding for rural areas, encouraging the public to report crime and better targeting of police resources.
Mr Pearson said: “We already know that our farming members suffer at the hands of rural crime, whether that is machinery and livestock theft to fly-tipping and from perpetrators using increasingly sophisticated methods.
“It is important that the NRCN uses its survey information to develop a robust plan of action to help reduce the impacts of rural crime on farm businesses and the wider community. Each crime, no matter how small or large, can have a potentially devastating effect on the victims.”
North Yorkshire Police, which covers most of Yorkshire’s rural areas, welcomed a national focus on rural crime and defended the its own record by pointing to impressive public confidence findings in the annual Crime Survey for England and Wales which put the force in the top six in the country.
Chief constable Dave Jones said: “Confidence comes from understanding and acting upon the needs of our rural communities. The greatest concern highlighted in this (NRCN) survey was road safety – a topic which has seen extensive activity and partnership working within North Yorkshire Police.”
A Home Office spokesman said: “Police reform is working and crime has fallen by more than a quarter over the last five years, according to the Independent Crime Survey for England and Wales. Overall, people in rural areas are two thirds as likely to be the victim of crime as those in urban areas.
“The election of Police and Crime Commissioners has given communities – including those in rural areas – a strong voice in determining how police resources are allocated to tackle the crimes that matter most to them.”