Chief Inspector Phil Vickers at Lincolnshire Police has recently taken on the role of leading the rural crime team in the county.
In this exclusive interview the CLA caught up with Phil to discuss the challenges and priorities he has for the coming year.
You have recently taken over the rural crime brief at Lincolnshire Police. Is it what you expected?
It is a steep learning curve. I have been a Lincolnshire officer for 22 years, worked around the county, with rural communities, but some of the challenges we face now are unique. Policing never stands still and I am going to spend a lot of time listening.
What are the biggest challenges in your role?
The broader challenge for policing anywhere is the changing nature of the demand on policing. The financial pressures that come from central government means continuing to provide a level of service is a challenge. Here in Lincolnshire there are some unique challenges – whether that is protecting vulnerable people, isolation, or a lack of access to support services in rural communities.
We have a relatively underdeveloped road network, which means we see quite a high number of collisions and fatalities, so road safety is a challenge. Broadly, it is about reacting to the needs of our communities.
It is important to have a two-way conversation between the police and community. I perceive there to be four broad areas of challenge we face in rural communities:
- Public space policing – visibility and presence on the ground and our ability to get the right people to the right place at the right time – what you might call the more traditional form of policing.
- Private space – the things that happen in your own home such as burglary, criminal damage, domestic abuse, protecting children.
- Digital – the area that is developing most rapidly. We do not currently have a feeling for what digital policing entails as it is changing so rapidly. There is a challenge around how we live our lives interconnected in a digital world and what the role is for policing within that.
- Democracy – if I was asked where I would focus my attention and resources, it would be on the area we can have the greatest impact – ultimately saving lives. Democracy is about the community having a view of what they want from policing and we need to be listening to what the community wants.
For any of these, the challenge is having the right people in the right place and listening to our communities.
There is a perception from some within rural communities that rural crimes, such as hare coursing, are not treated as seriously as other criminal activity. What is your view?
There is a perception that hare coursing is a low harm, low risk, low level activity that the police shouldn’t be spending their time on. We need to be proactive in tackling it, but explain how and why we are doing this.
So what are your tactics for tackling hare coursing this year?
There are two arms to Operation Galileo in Lincolnshire this year. The first is reactive. Success means a reduction in the number of incidents. I am not going to measure by prosecutions, it’s more about focusing on the prevention in the first place. Last year we introduced seizure of dogs as a core tactic, and though this comes with considerable cost, it was balanced with a 30 per cent reduction in incidents. We are continuing with this.
The proactive arm of Operation Galileo this year is to take the fight to the offender – going out of the county and enforcing against the offender – arresting them in their own homes, searching their property and seizing property.
How closely will you work with other forces?
The important thing about talking to other forces is that where we have tactics that work we can share these so they can be successfully adopted by other forces. We have to continue to be innovative, to develop new ways of working to prevent the offences. It is not a one size fits all method.
Hare coursing is not a police problem in isolation. We need to listen to the CLA, to your members, and to the wider community and encourage people to give us the intelligence to allow us to put the right people in the right place. It needs to be a two-way conversation, to keep the public involved.
There are times when farmers and landowners think reporting rural crimes is pointless as they doubt the information will be acted on by the police. What is your response to this?
Without that intelligence [reports of crime], it is difficult to have the right people in place at the right time. We know that some seemingly minor rural offences are linked to organised crime. We also know that those who offend often brag about what they have done.
We need people to know they can report and provide information anonymously, which is why we work with organisations such as Crimestoppers to do this through an independent third party.
What message do you have for Lincolnshire farmers and landowners about how you are going to be tackling rural crime in the next year?
We are on the same side and we are here to work together. We endorse the reporting of information intelligence to us. We will not always get it right, but trust and shared information gives us the best chance or tackling criminality and preventing the offences happening in the first place.