Tackling Rural Crime in Gwent
It's safe to say that people living in rural communities face varying and differing challenges in comparison with those who live in more urban areas.
They have unfortunately attracted the attention of criminals that prey on the vulnerability of rural locations. Farms in particular are subject to all types of crimes including machinery, tool and livestock theft.
I have been working closely with Gwent Police to help address these issues and my Deputy, Paul Harris, was recently invited to speak at the National Rural Crime Seminar in Birmingham to highlight how the Force has successfully re-engaged with our rural communities and reduced farm related crime by 27%.
During public meetings I attended in 2013, people from rural communities often raised their concerns that there was no specific point of contact within Gwent Police who could provide specialist help or advice on specific farm or rural related crime. Analysis also showed that valuable intelligence from farmers wasn't being tapped into.
Changes to policing in an effort to deal with austerity had inadvertently added to that problem because resources were being targeted on areas of highest demand and some local police stations had been closed.
In 2013 however, Gwent Police appointed CSO Allan Mills as a dedicated Farm Watch Coordinator to re-engage with farmers and help protect our rural communities from crime. A fresh approach was applied and Allan set out to properly engage with farmers and rural victims on a daily basis and provide them with essential prevention advice and support. He began working more effectively with partners such as farming unions and aimed to increase membership of the online Farm Watch scheme on OWL (Online Watch Link) which I fund and support.
I should tell you that there is no magic formula here, just good old fashioned communication but using technology to help us re-engage with our rural communities. I am not talking about a massive resource implication here either - just one very enthusiastic CSO being supervised by Police Sergeant Simon Clark who is also the Metal Theft lead for Gwent Police.
But the results of making this their 'day job' are impressive and speak for themselves. Online Farm Watch membership increased from 300 to nearly 1,000 members in just one year and intelligence gained from the public via Farm Watch has helped Gwent Police to catch a series of criminals involved in firearms crimes, crimes against animals to the theft of farm machinery, fuel and metal.
In 2014, Gwent hosted the NATO Summit and CSO Allan Mills was integral to the planning as a rural tactical advisor. He liaised with the local council, security organisations and heritage groups to prevent miles of security fencing disturbing protected historical sites. His intelligence also helped in the case against a farmer sentenced to four years for slavery last year.
The Farm Watch scheme has since been recognised nationally, winning awards such as NFU Mutual Rural Crime Fighters award 2014. I am not saying that this is the panacea for rural crime but recent surveys from Farm Watch members now show an increase in satisfaction with the police and the scheme
In a nutshell, Farm Watch provides us with another valuable weapon in our arsenal to tackle rural crime and it's a perfect example of how engaging with and communicating directly with our communities can help bring criminals to justice.
More recently, I have provided funding and support to help establish the National Rural Crime Network (NRCN), a new online network which aims to act as a collaborative think tank to tackle rural crime in England and Wales. Gwent Police has already been held up as a model of best practice by the network.
The NRCN is currently running the biggest ever rural crime survey of its kind in the UK, calling for people who work or live in rural areas to come forward and give their views on policing in their community. The survey will ultimately help shape the future of crime prevention and rural policing.
The survey will be open until Wednesday 24th June.