From fly tipping to farm burglaries, deer poaching to hare coursing and suspicious vehicles to sheep worrying, rural crime is a reality for many parts of the countryside. Fortunately people like Tom Balchin, a PCSO from Dorset Police, are on hand to fight it and support rural communities in preventing it as much as possible. I spoke to Tom about rural crime and policing, why he joined the police in the first place and what he thinks are the biggest crime issues in the countryside today.
Thanks for speaking to me Tom. How and why did you become a PCSO in Dorset?
I joined Dorset Police in January 2015 after completing an application form and then passing a variety of tests/examinations (such as medical, fitness and the Police vetting procedure). I was then invited for an interview and shortly afterwards was offered a position as a PCSO within Dorset Police. I completed 9 weeks of basic training at the Force Headquarters in Winfrith, where I became a PCSO based in Weymouth. I had always had an interest in the Police from a young age after watching every episode of Heartbeat on a Sunday evening after a roast dinner as a child! Also, after some issues in my family life I decided I wanted to join up and make a difference to society and help others in the rural community. I am lucky to say I have my dream job within the Dorset Police Rural Crime Team. I have always been interested in the rural way of life after training at Sparsholt College in Game and Wildlife Management and then I went on to work in countryside industries for 8 years before joining Dorset Police.
Can you describe a typical work day?
Now there’s a question … there is no typical day working for Dorset Police if I am honest. I work a shift pattern so I either start my day at 8am or 2pm and check our systems, including emails and social media accounts. If I have received any relevant information since my previous shift, I will input this onto our system and after completing my paperwork I could be visiting a farmer or anybody else from the rural community within Dorset. I also work with our local Neighbourhood Policing Teams, visiting people and discovering the issues that the rural community face as well as conducting intelligence-led, high visibility patrol. I could also be attending events and meetings such as Agricultural shows, NFU breakfast meetings and young farmers club meetings. I have recently been delivering training to call handlers and call takers in our Force Control Room on the different aspects of rural crime and the current issues such as Poaching. I also attended meetings with our neighbouring forces to talk about rural crime because criminals don’t just commit offences within one county. They routinely cross border lines.
What do you think are the most common crime issues in Dorset and in rural England more widely?
At this moment, I feel the most common crime issues in Dorset are theft from unattended motor vehicles, deer poaching and the criminal damage associated with poaching. We have also seen a rise in reports to police of suspicious vehicles and their occupants, which I actively encourage members of the public to report as they are best placed to know why they would be suspicious. Nationally, I feel that poaching and hare coursing are increasingly becoming an issue in rural areas of the country.
Recent figures from rural insurer NFU mutual has revealed a rise in claims for farm thefts, standing at more than £1 million in March this year, which is double the figure in March 2016. Why do farm thefts, particularly of vehicles seem to be on the rise?
I think the rise in claims for thefts from farms is partly due to their remote locations with little or no security such as CCTV, alarms and other deterrents. Such crime prevention measures have proven to be extremely effective and in Dorset we haven’t seen a rise in reports of vehicles being stolen from farms.
What can farmers do to improve security on their farm?
I would say to farmers I know the industry as a whole is suffering and every penny counts when it comes to farming but please think of spending a few hundred pounds on basic security products such as motion and trigger alarms which will alert you to a vehicle or person being on your property. Install motion or constant LED security lights and make sure existing lights are checked and the bulbs are in working order. Consider installing a CCTV system linked to your smartphone which is becoming increasingly popular due to the instant notification of intruders on your property – such systems are available from as little as £50. Security measures don’t have to cost the earth! Consider digging ditches around your land if you’re having trouble with poachers or vehicles entering, ideally make the ditch 1 metre wide by 1 metre deep. You can also leave old or unused machinery in gaps and gateways to prevent unauthorised entry.
Sheep worrying also seems to be a growing problem – do you have a message to dog owners?
Nationally, sheep worrying appears to be a growing issue and recently we have seen a slight rise in the number of reports here in Dorset. I would like to remind all dog owners that sheep worrying is a criminal offence and landowners can legally shoot a dog if they believe that their livestock is at risk under the Countryside Rights Of Way Act 1971. With lambing season in full swing, the ewes are close to, or about to give birth (in some parts of the country it’s already over) and any stress could have a major impact on the welfare of the ewe. Sheep worrying can also have a significant financial implication to the farmer. Remember that if you are walking your dog near to or around cattle and you are threatened by them, don’t hold onto your dog but let it go as the cattle will chase the dog.
I would also urge members of the public that if you see a dog worrying or attacking livestock please call 999.
More information about Livestock Worrying can be found here at https://www.dorset.police.uk/ruralcrime
Do you think that people in rural areas face different crime threats to people living in urban areas?
Yes, rural crime issues are generally very different to those experienced within urban areas. Rural communities experience issues such as livestock worrying, poaching of deer and pheasants, hare coursing and of course the dreaded fly tipping. Whereas within urban and larger populated areas, issues tend to focus around the local amenities, such as alcohol related crime and Anti-Social Behaviour when large groups can gather.
With public transport often poor or even non-existent in many rural areas, would you say that drink driving is still an issue?
The lack of efficient public transport is an issue in some areas of Dorset, but this is absolutely not an excuse for people to drink and drive. I think that ongoing campaigns have made people more aware of the consequences of driving whilst under the influence of alcohol as we as helping to make it become socially unacceptable.
What is the most rewarding thing about your job?
I think it’s probably being able to go home at the end of a shift and think that I’ve been able to make a positive difference, even if it’s only a small, to the prevention of rural crime.
What about the biggest challenge, or challenges, of working as a rural police officer or PCSO today?
The biggest challenge is getting our rural communities to report issues, crime and other suspicious observations to the Police. We need rural communities to tell us anything that is relevant in order to help understand the problems and issues that they face. Historically, farmers, keepers and landowners didn’t want to bother us as the police are too busy, but we want them to feel like they can always speak to us. Another challenge is the remote locations of farms and small holdings, they can be difficult to find sometimes!
Is there anything else you think it is important to raise?
For more information on the Dorset Police Rural Crime Team please like our Facebook Page @Dorset PoliceRuralCrimeTeam, Follow us on Twitter @Ruralcrimeteam, Visit our website https://www.dorset.police.uk/ruralcrime or send us an email at Ruralcrimeteam@dorset.pnn.police.uk
If you or your community have suffered from rural crime, I’d love to hear about it in the comments section.