Community links prove vital in fight against rural crime

Inspector Jon Grainge of the North Yorkshire Police Rural Taskforce
Inspector Jon Grainge of the North Yorkshire Police Rural Taskforce

A TASKFORCE set up to combat rural crime in England’s largest county is intensifying its efforts through old-fashioned, grassroots policing to root out criminals.

The team, established by North Yorkshire Police two years ago, is making efforts to forge ever-stronger ties with farmers, rural business owners and residents in isolated areas to gather the intelligence it needs.

Inspector Jon Grainge, who heads up the taskforce, said while it was a common perception that people no longer knew their local bobby, forging relationships with people was at the heart of his team’s work.

The 17-strong Rural Taskforce, believed to be the biggest of its type in the country, plans to attend 18 agricultural shows this summer to meet as many people as possible in the community it serves.

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Insp Grainge said: “Clearly, the police are a finite resource and we can only do what we can do with the numbers we have got.”

He added that while they were “never going to meet everyone”, by showing up to county shows, auction marts or agricultural sales, his team was able to meet a large number of people in one place.

“For me, it’s a great opportunity to really listen to people,” he said.

The team is also nearing the end of a year-long effort to write letters to all 8,500 farmers across the county, introducing themselves and offering to visit them in person to assess how secure their business is.

Insp Grainge said 20 to 25 per cent of farmers had taken them up on the offer so far.

But he said the purpose of forging these links was not just to help people protect themselves against crime. If people knew a member of his team by name, he said, it made them far more likely to get in touch with information that could prove crucial in spotting new crime trends or bringing down criminal gangs.

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He said: “We feel they know their communities better than anyone. They know when something is out-of-place, not quite right or suspicious.

“Sometimes, you might have a suspect vehicle in one particular area which might have been involved in a crime that had occurred ten or 15 miles down the road.”

This week the head of the National Rural Crime Network, Julia Mulligan, told The Yorkshire Post that forces were still being too “responsive” to rural crime.

Ms Mulligan, the police commissioner for North Yorkshire, said there needed to be “far more proactive, intelligence-led policing”, saying her own force was making improvements in this area.

Insp Grainge said conversations with members of the public had often helped the team shape its work. He gave the example of the team’s Horse Watch scheme, clamping down on the theft of expensive tack and equestrian equipment, saying riders’ detailed knowledge of the equestrian world had proved crucial.

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The taskforce is also braced for the biggest test of its work to date.

The team was set up in the wake of a national rural crime survey published in 2015, which showed the cost of rural crime nationally was a staggering £800m a year.

Now the survey is being repeated across the country and will give the taskforce the first indication of the impact it has had on the community since its formation.

Insp Grainge said the results would be really useful feedback for the team, saying: “It might help me decide whether we need a bit of a change of tactics.”