PUBLISHED: 11:42 13 April 2015 | UPDATED: 11:43 13 April 2015
Ann-Marie Oliff from Essex Police explains the unexpected challenges of making the rural parts of the county a safer and better place to live — unless you're breaking the law
It is easy to assume that life is much simpler in the Essex countryside. However, the issues that we would associate with the hustle and bustle of city life — in particular, policing and crime — are still present.
Rural crime affects individuals and businesses and can include the theft of livestock, plant machinery and fuel. Although crime occurs less in rural areas, unfortunately it does still exist and impacts on large sections of the community.
Defining rural crime itself is a bit of a challenge. Former sergeant and tactical advisor on this subject, Tony Ellis, explains: ‘It is very difficult to define a rural crime. To some people it’s considered any crime that happens in these areas. To others, it’s crimes specific to the agricultural community, like hare coursing.’
Essex Police’s dedicated rural crime team, which is made up of specialist wildlife officers, PCSOs and rural Special Constables, agree with this view.
Special Chief Inspector Alex Ward adds: ‘The majority of our time is spent carrying out intelligence-led patrols whereby we make a presence into hotspots and rural areas vulnerable to crime — stopping people and vehicles, gathering intelligence and engaging with members of the community to provide reassurance and listen to local issues.
‘In addition to this, we act on intelligence and crime trends, attend rural incidents as they come in, along with providiong crime presentation advice alongside Crime Prevention Tactical Advisors. The focus of our work is to improve the lives of people in rural areas and protect people’s lives, property and livelihoods.’
The objective of the team is to combat rural crime by firstly improving police engagement and the provision of information within rural communities and secondly ensuring the further development of Rural Watch schemes.
The team, along with a dedicated team of Crime Prevention Tactical Advisors (CPTAs), look to solve local problems as well as empowering communities into action with schemes to improve the communities in which rural communities and businesses work and live.
The CPTAs also believe that engagement and advice is the key to empower farmers and rural communities into taking action and being vigilant. The team are a regular presence at large rural events in the Essex calendar, such as the Ernest Doe Show in Ulting and the Rural Crime Awareness Day, for example. This is held annually in Chelmsford, Braintree and Colchester and offers valuable crime prevention advice whereby members of Essex Police and exhibitors from security companies attend.
Another initiative that the Essex Watch Liaison Officers are launching is by engaging dog-walkers whose routes take them in to secluded green spaces across the county.
Dog Watch, which will be making its official launch on June 26 in Maldon Promenade Park, aims to sign up regular dog walkers to encourage them into reporting anything suspicious that they see during their walks to Essex Police on 101.
Trisha Staerck, CPTA on rural crime, adds: ‘Days such as the Rural Crime Awareness Day, the Essex Young Farmers show and Ernest Doe Show are excellent for us to speak to the rural and farming communities, providing them with crime prevention advice in order to prevent theft.
‘Some equipment that they use costs hundreds of thousands of pounds and of course it is a detrimental loss to their livelihoods if this is damaged or stolen.’
The team is also looking to help to fight crime and anti-social behaviour at the wealth of museums and heritage sites across the county, including those in remote areas, by improving existing communication between those in the museum and historical site industry, heritage champions and Essex Police.
Heritage Watch, which launched at Stow Marie’s Aerodrome on April 23, will encourage people who live close to historical sites, who have a real love of local history and who work in the industry itself to join the Heritage Watch group to pass on important information as well as reporting anything suspicious or out of the ordinary in these places.
With some farmers and communities living in more remote areas, policing can prove to be more problematic. However, a programme known as Farmers’ NAPs (Neighbourhood Action Panels) meets every three months, where those who may not have any neighbours nearby can exchange information.
Trisha continues: ‘Although this was put in place by Essex Police, this really is a platform where we are just on hand to offer advice and guidance where it is needed.’
This is a view that Tony, who pioneered the scheme, fully endorses, adding: ‘Farmers’ NAPs are similar to that of a Neighbourhood Watch scheme. It has proved to be an excellent information network, particularly in recovering stolen property, locating missing persons and getting knowledge about the local community.’
This form of exchanging information and engaging others has also reached the digital age. Tony was also instrumental in founding an idea which has been utilised across the Epping Forest district. Known as Email Families, this has been a modern way of sharing information with groups within a community.
Tony continues: ‘Some crimes seem to target certain sections of the community. For example, scrap metal theft finds more victims in rural areas. To address this I realised that I needed to create email groups to make sure that advice and information was targeted and impactful.
‘I send out information to appropriate groups based on the relevance of the information. In turn, they respond with information which I disseminate to other members. Not only have we included an email family for farmers, I have introduced email families which include banks, schools, doctors’ surgeries, chemists, supermarkets and taxi companies.’
Another digital crime prevention incentive by Essex Police includes Essex Community Messenger (ECM), which was launched in October 2014. Residents across Essex can sign up for free to receive accurate and up-to-date community safety information and crime prevention advice from Essex Police, the Essex Police Crime Commissioner and Neighbourhood Watch to help keep their communities safe.
Upon signing up, you can choose to receive how you want the information — either via email, text or voice message. You can also select what information you would like to receive based on where you live, where you socialise or on issues that you may have a particular interest in. With ECM, you can then play an active role in helping to keep crime down in your community while keeping up to date with what is going on around you.
Building communities, both in the real world and online, is at the centre of making our rural areas safer places to live.