A NATIONAL Rural Crime Network set up to tackle countryside crime has been endorsed by 18 of the UK's Police and Crime Commissioners.
A further eight commissioners are considering joining the group, which could bring the total to around two thirds of PCCs across the two countries.
The idea originated with the Rural Services Network, a 'not for profit' organisation which represents a diverse range of rural service providers in the public, private and voluntary sectors.
To explore the concept in more detail, commissioners convened with police officers and representatives from the Rural Services Network, Farmers Weekly magazine, the National Community Safety Network, the online crime reporting system 'Facewatch', the Country Land and Business Association and other rural stakeholders.
Rural Services Network officer Nick Payne said: "There is a common perception that rural crime is less significant than that occurring in cities and towns. The impact of rural crime is just as serious as it is elsewhere which is becoming an increasing problem as austerity bites and as police resources are stretched thinner."
Mr Payne added: "There are also strong links to serious organised gangs in relation to some classifications of rural crime, for example, theft of agricultural plant and machinery as well as the availability of drugs alongside more conventional issues such as wildlife and heritage crime."
"There is good collaborative work already occurring in some localities but it is widely acknowledged that sharing of best practice is patchy and urgently needs to be improved."
Mr Payne said the network would ensure that sharing best practice was effectively coordinated and sustained.
The network will also be developing strong links to academic research resources as well promoting successful techniques to encourage rural communities to become more self -resilient in these difficult times.
Julia Mulligan, Police and Crime Commissioner for North Yorkshire, said "As the Commissioner for the largest rural police force in England, I am particularly keen to support this initiative. Clearly, crime in rural areas accounts for a large proportion of North Yorkshire Police's demand.
"There are significant pressures on rural police forces and by coming together, we will be able to speak in a strong and united voice.
"I am particularly pleased that the network also includes other organisations dedicated to rural communities. In this way, we should all be able to learn from one another and work collaboratively on new ideas and solutions that will benefit our local people."
Once established, the network will provide an online resource for police, community safety practitioners and others to interact, to share information, training development, access to case studies and link up with other mechanisms for reporting crime and/or suspicious behaviour.
A smaller working group will now refine some initial Terms of Reference and explore ways in which the ICT infrastructure that will be required for the network to function can be funded and most efficiently established.
The 18 interested Police and Crime Commissioners are:- Bedfordshire, Cheshire, Cleveland, Derbyshire, Devon and Cornwall, Durham, Dyfed-Powys, Gloucestershire, Hertfordshire, Leicestershire, Lincolnshire, Northamptonshire, North Yorkshire, Nottinghamshire, Suffolk, Thames Valley, Warwickshire and West Mercia.
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