Julia Mulligan: Rural crime – and how residents can help us to make the countryside a safer place

Julia Mulligan is North Yorkshire's police and crime commissioner.
Julia Mulligan is North Yorkshire's police and crime commissioner.
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THREE years ago, we asked rural communities about crime where they lived and worked – both their perception of crime and the reality of whether they had been a victim.

The results were shocking – both the financial cost, at £800m per year, and human cost, with fear of crime on the rise, chronic under-reporting and frustration at the police and government.

Now we want to find out if anything has changed. Has crime gone up or down, 
do communities feel safer, what’s the view of the police in rural communities? We’ll be asking those questions and
many more in the 2018 National Rural Crime Survey which has just been launched by the National Rural Crime Network.

Set up in 2014, we’re an organisation that brings together 28 police and crime commissioners, police forces and organisations that play a key role in rural communities – like the Country Land and Business Association, the National Farmers Union, Neighbourhood Watch, Crimestoppers, Historic England and the Countryside Alliance.

Over the next few weeks, we’re encouraging anyone who lives, works or plays in the countryside to have their say and make their voice heard. We want to know the true picture of crime and anti-social behaviour both here in Yorkshire, and across England and Wales.

The questions cover a range of issues – from whether you report crimes that you or your business suffer, to the impact crime and anti-social behaviour has on you and your area, and whether you believe enough is done to catch those who carry out the offences.

The last survey, in 2015, saw 13,000 respond to give their impressions of crime and anti-social behaviour. It was – and remains – the biggest survey of its kind of rural communities. By repeating it now, we want to see if the changes the police made after our last report made any difference – and what strategies to make communities safe, and feel safer, have worked so best practice can be shared nationwide.

Change did follow the 2015 survey 
with a mix of measures adopted –including from 13 forces who now
have dedicated rural crime teams, including North Yorkshire whose rural task force has been leading the way in attempting to tackle many of the challenges it showed.

What the research also showed was that too many people in rural communities simply don’t report the crimes they’ve fallen victim to. Three years ago, one in four said they didn’t because they couldn’t see the point. I hope that’s changed, but I suspect the problem remains.

And that’s a challenge – because when I meet with Ministers, they want to see the evidence for why they should put more resources into tackling rural crime. And if we don’t know the true scale of the problem, we can’t force them to take action. This survey will help provide that evidence and reinforce our calls for a fair deal for the rural communities whose problems are all too often not recognised or understood by those in positions of power.

It’s also a really important time to ensure we have the evidence direct from rural communities. The National Police Chiefs’ Council is about to launch a national strategy for rural affairs. 
This will set out the approach that
forces across the country should take when dealing with crime in rural communities.

It’s an important step and an important moment – but knowing what the real situation is on the ground will be crucial in both supporting the development of this strategy and then holding police to account to ensure its promises are delivered.

Changing that is what the National Rural Crime Network was set up to achieve and our national survey will support that aim. I hope that anyone living or working in a rural community will spare a few minutes to complete it at www.nationalruralcrimenetwork.net/survey

Rural communities are resilient. They stick together, they’re proud, but they deserve better. I fully expect our research will reveal some difficult truths. But we – and all those involved in trying to make things better – need to know these truths. We need a clear picture of what has improved, what challenges remain 
and what more government, police 
forces and organisations can do to support some of the most isolated 
parts of our country.

Julia Mulligan is Chair of the National Rural Crime Network. She is also North Yorkshire’s police and crime commissioner.