Rural policing crisis: forces lack dedicated officers, funding, and even torches

With crime in rural areas surging by 32% since 2011, the CLA highlights the lack of dedicated policing teams and calls for standard equipment packs and universal tags to combat rural crime
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Findings reveal that police forces have either no, or very little, dedicated officers for rural areas and their unique types of crime

Many rural areas in England and Wales have no dedicated rural officers, ringfenced police funding, or forces with basic kit such as torches, according to Freedom of Information (FOI) responses compiled by the Country Land and Business Association (CLA).

The CLA approached 36 police forces operating in rural areas across England and Wales, excluding the likes of the Metropolitan Police and Greater Manchester which serve predominantly urban communities. In total, 20 forces responded.

As rural crime rates surge faster than urban areas, rising 32% since 2011 compared to 24% in towns and cities, the findings show:

  • Five forces have no rural crime team, and eight forces have less than ten dedicated rural officers
  • Lack of equipment including at least three forces without torches, six without mobile ANPR cameras, three without rural drone kits, and three with just one drone kit
  • No universal tag to track common rural crimes on police databases
  • Large disparity in rural crime team funding, with some receiving £900,000 and others just £1,250

Lack of equipment

Cleveland, Derbyshire and Lancashire report no high-powered torches in their inventory, while South Yorkshire have just two high-power torches between 85 officers, and Gwent two across its entire rural crime team.

Six forces including North Wales, Leicestershire, and Northamptonshire are going without critical equipment like mobile ANPR cameras, which allow officers to capture number plates and check them against ‘vehicles of interest’ databases.

Cleveland also have no 4x4 vehicles or rural drone surveillance kits, while three forces including Northamptonshire, Gwent and South Yorkshire have just one drone kit.

North Wales and Cleveland have no thermal spotters, which allow police to detect criminals in the dark, while three forces including South Yorkshire, Gwent and Derbyshire have just one in their inventory.

Elsewhere, Wiltshire and Cheshire say they are unable to report inventory because the information is not held centrally.

As part of its blueprint for tackling rural crime, CLA is calling on political parties to issue a standard Rural Crime Equipment Pack to every rural force, alongside training, to be funded centrally and reviewed annually.

Lack of dedicated rural officers

Around 90% of Britain’s landmass is rural, yet the FOI findings reveal that police forces have either no, or very little, dedicated officers for these areas and their unique types of crime.

Five forces have no dedicated rural officers or rural crime team, including Durham, Nottingham, West Yorkshire, Norfolk and Cleveland.

Where forces do have rural crime units, they represent a small proportion of the overall force. Of those who responded, South Yorkshire has the largest number of rural officers (92), but they make up a small percentage of its force of more than 3,000 officers, despite being a predominantly rural county.

Elsewhere, Leicestershire have just eight dedicated rural officers out of a force of 2252, while Suffolk have four out of 1352 officers, and Wiltshire five out of 1225 officers.

Of the forces who responded, the majority have no policy in place to stop rural officers being pulled into urban issues, or minimum ringfenced resources for rural policing.

Rural crime teams also face a postcode lottery when it comes to funding. While Cambridgeshire has a budget of £961,830, Leicestershire’s rural crime team receives just £1250, and Northamptonshire’s team receives no internal funding.

The CLA is calling on political parties to develop a fixed Service Level Agreement, with appropriate and ringfenced resources, to protect rural communities from crime.

No tag for rural crimes

Multiple forces, including Dorset, Wiltshire, Gwent, and North Wales, don’t have tags for tracking common rural crimes including hare coursing, poaching, fly tipping, and GPS and machinery theft.

This means officers must search records manually, limiting their ability to track trends, locate serial offenders, co-ordinate with other forces, and target these crimes effectively.

Of the forces tracking these crimes, they were poorly attended by officers. Leicestershire reported 55 fly-tipping cases in the past year, but only three were attended by officers, while West Yorkshire reported 47 poaching cases, with less than half (22) attended by officers.

Elsewhere, Nottingham say fly-tipping is generally a matter for the council or Environment Agency to investigate, despite being a criminal offence.

To address this, CLA is calling on the next government to invest in universal data standards and tags to enable joined-up policing, early awareness of trends, identification of target areas or crime types, and inform day-to-day policing operations and objectives.

999 response times

Numerous forces are also taking a significant amount of time to respond to 999 calls graded “immediate” – where there is a danger to life or immediate threat of violence.

In rural areas in Nottingham, the average response time is 26 minutes, well over its 20-minute target, while in Leicestershire the average response time is 22 minutes, vs 16 minutes for urban areas.

In Bedfordshire, rural communities are waiting 27 minutes on average for officers to arrive at the scene, while in South Cambridgeshire the median response time is 26 minutes.

CLA President Victoria Vyvyan commented:

“These findings show that our rural policing system is in crisis. There’s no serious national coordination, measurement, or even basic kit, to tackle surging rural crime.

“All forces need a rural crime equipment pack, including torches. We can’t expect police officers to tackle crime in the dark. And rural crime will remain unseen without proper tagging systems, backed by central funding and coordination.

People living in the countryside feel treated like second class citizens by law enforcement. They need assurances, in this general election and beyond, that this cannot go on

CLA President Victoria Vyvyan

Rural Crime

For more guidance and advice on rural crime, visit the CLA's dedicated hub