Saturday, 07 August 2010 17:28

The thinner blue (rural) line

Written by  Ruralcity Media
The thinner blue (rural) line

Rural people are less likely to think that the police are doing a good job, writes Brian Wilson.

THE Home Office recently released its analysis of the crime statistics for 2009/10, which draws both on the British Crime Survey (BCS) and the records of crime kept by police forces.

Media coverage focused on two stories. First, the 9% fall in crime since the previous year, which takes the risk of being a victim of crime to its lowest level since the BCS started in 1981. Second, however, that the level of violent crime has remained essentially unchanged.You can see it on the BBC news website here.

Throughout the Home Office document there is a useful rural-urban cut on the statistics and a short section (at page 168) reports on them. To achieve this, data from the household-based British Crime Survey has been matched to the official rural definition (settlements with fewer than 10,000 people), while police force records have been analysed using a rural-urban classification of Community Safety Partnership areas.

The headline finding will not come as a great surprise to Rural Services Network members. The BCS shows that the risk of being a victim of crime in 2009/10 was lower in rural than in urban areas. Some 12% of rural households were victims, compared with almost 18% of urban households. A figure, some might say, which should still not be downplayed.

This pattern holds true when the overall figures are broken down into the different types of household crime. Rural households are relatively less likely to have been the victims of vandalism (5%), vehicle-related theft (4%) and burglary (1%).

Trends in household crime are similar in both rural and urban areas, with both having fallen. Of some interest, though, is the fact that the rate of decrease since 2001/02 in rural areas, at 26%, is slightly less than that for urban areas, at 30%.

An analysis of police force records largely backs up the BCS findings. It also indicates that violence against the person is only half as common in predominantly rural as in predominantly urban partnership areas. For drug offences the spatial differential is even more marked.

These figures don’t appear to distinguish certain categories of crime more associated with the countryside, such as wildlife and environmental crimes, but presumably these get swept up in the police records under “other offences”.

Given all of the above, what stands out are the statistics about rural people’s confidence in the police and justice services. Whilst rural people are only half as likely to think that their area suffers from anti-social behaviour, they have less confidence than their urban counterparts that it will be dealt with by the police or local council. Or take the fact that somewhat fewer rural (than urban) people agree the police are “doing a good job” and fewer of them think the police can be “relied upon when needed”. Then rural people express themselves slightly less confident in the effectiveness of the criminal justice system.

The Home Office document reports the statistics rather than attempting to explain them. It seems almost certain, though, that they can partly be explained by lower police visibility in rural areas and rural communities’ feeling that they are more distant from police help, should it be required. I also wonder if there is a correlation with other population characteristics, not least the older age profile of rural populations. Figures in the report offer limited backing for that suggestion, but no more.

I am reminded of the rural work of Gloucestershire Constabulary, which operates three mobile police stations whose role includes that of providing re-assurance to communities and reducing the fear of crime. For anyone interested here is the link.

The Rural Services Network would be fascinated to hear from anyone with similar good practice in tackling this knotty issue.

Brian Wilson, who runs the research consultancy Brian Wilson Associates, also acts as the RSN’s Research Director. He can be contacted at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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