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Learning from you as our fight against rural crime progresses

I know how important combatting rural crime is to communities across Dorset. It’s been one of the top priorities of my Police and Crime Plan since I stepped into this job more than two years ago. And I’m pleased to say we have seen some significant improvements and success stories in that time.

Over the summer, along with fellow PCCs in Devon and Cornwall, Avon and Somerset, Gloucestershire, and Wiltshire, I launched a survey to explore how crime impacts rural communities. The aim was to gather information to help me understand in even more detail how people living and working in Dorset’s rural communities are affected by the types of offences usually only experienced in the countryside.

The survey certainly returned some very interesting results, which I’d like to tell you about, including some updates on how we continue to address your concerns.

One of the most pleasing aspects of the survey was that the majority of respondents said they had not experienced rural crime in the past year. While this goes to show the progress we are making, I want to reassure you it doesn’t mean we’re complacent; far from it. The Dorset Police Rural Crime Team are working tirelessly to tackle the offences which affect you. They – and I - are determined to ensure positive changes are felt by you all. Our expanded rural crime team – which has grown from three to a capacity of 18 – has been able to return more than £1million work of stolen machinery to victims over the past year. NFU Mutual’s annual report showed a 28% drop in the cost of crime for Dorset, compared to an increase of 22.1% nationally.

The survey also showed me that fly-tipping was the most common crime experienced by you, as well as one of the offences which concerns you the most, along with theft of agricultural machinery and theft of livestock. Beyond the troubling issues of fly-tipping being a health hazard as well as an eyesore in our county, I know how frustrating these incidents can be for Dorset residents. And while local authorities are responsible for investigating, clearing, and taking the appropriate action over this, I am pleased to be able to tell you that I have agreed to fund an evidence gathering role to enable further enforcement of fly-tipping offenders in Dorset. I hope this will go some way to tackling this blight on our countryside and send a clear message to offenders that Dorset will not accept this behaviour.

One of the results I was saddened to see, was that nearly 50% of those who responded said they had not reported rural crimes to the police. I would strongly urge you to report incidents of crime to Dorset Police – either via 999 if you are in immediate danger or through the online reporting system in non-emergencies. To successfully tackle the types of incidents involved in rural crime, the police must know about it. Without intelligence and knowledge of incidents which have occurred, the force cannot deploy resources and officers to where they are needed. Help them to help you by telling police about these offences.

We have a lot to be proud of in Dorset when it comes to how we deal with rural crime. Recently we also launched our Mounted Rural Volunteers scheme in which volunteers on horseback work with the rural crime team to provide intelligence to support and protect local rural communities. These volunteers will be engaging with people while out on their regular hacks along bridleways, lanes, and country roads to gather intelligence and report anything suspicious.

We also have our Country Watch website, a one-stop rural resource centre for all things related to rural crime. We wanted to bring all the information you need in one place. The site provides crime prevention advice, information on how to report fly-tipping and where to get help if you’re a victim of crime.

However, we can’t fight rural crime alone. Over the years I have demonstrated the importance of partnership working when it comes to tackling these offences. From successful lobbying with fellow PCCs for tougher sanctions to tackle the menace of fly-tipping, to supporting the National Farmers Union in their campaign to deter and prevent illegal hare coursing, joint working is key to continued success. This is something I have tried to foster through the Dorset Partnership Against Rural Crime. Set-up in 2022, the organisation brings together my office along with Dorset Police, BCP Council, Dorset Council, the Country Land and Business Association (CLA), Cornish Mutual, Dorset Association of Parish and Town Councils (DAPTC), Dorset Wildlife Trust, the Environment Agency, Forestry England, Historic England, Kingston Maurward College, the National Trust, Natural England, National Farmers Union (NFU) and NFU Mutual to work together and share knowledge to support our rural communities.

But the work does not stop there. Along with my fellow PCCs in the south west, we will continue to target Organised Crime Groups (OCGs) involved in rural crime through Operation Ragwort. This campaign brings together all police forces in the region to combat crimes such as theft of vehicles and equipment, poaching and hare coursing. It is crucial we work together across the region. Criminals don’t see borders, and neither will we.

I hope this survey and our work so far demonstrates how seriously we take rural crime in Dorset. We will continue our fight to tackle these offences, as we strive to make Dorset the safest county.

David Sidwick

Dorset Police and Crime Commissioner

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