How does the North Yorkshire police force tackle rural crime? Orla McIlduff spent the day on patrol to find out.
For those of us who are passionate about the British countryside, it’s no surprise that many people choose to live in the villages in and around the North Yorkshire Moors as an escape from the hustle and bustle of city life.
Today, I’m the passenger of a car travelling through a beautiful rolling landscape – but this is not an occasion for sight-seeing.
In fact, Police Community Support Officer (PCSO) Iain McNeill, from the North Yorkshire Police Rural Task Force, has invited me to spend a day with him to see the challenges he faces in covering such a large area. Yes, this is an area of outstanding natural beauty, but North Yorkshire was also one of the 10 counties in the UK worst affected by rural crime in 2015 and 2016.
It was in response to the level of crime and seclusion in North Yorkshire that, in April 2016, the North Yorkshire Police established what is now the largest task force of its kind in the UK.
Iain, commanding in his high-vis police attire, is one of 14 PCSOs and police constables (PCs) in the task force. Together, they work diligently to protect the rural community they live and work in.
The first call of the morning is to a tiny village in the middle of the Moors to see a farmer who had reported poachers on his land the previous evening. Poaching comes in many different forms including deer hunting, fishing and hare coursing, but it can be very difficult to prosecute perpetrators unless they are caught in the act.
Iain stresses that getting farmers and members of the rural community to report trespassers to the police is vital for gathering intelligence, even if it seems insignificant. There is, however, one golden piece of evidence which the police can utilise in poaching cases: “We don’t need the public to approach them or challenge them; we just need a vehicle registration.” As it happens, this farmer can provide the vehicle make, model and colour, which is also helpful.
For the rural task force, forging these connections with people who live in the countryside is a vital part of their job. The team want to be visible and for the community to feel they are being protected.
Iain ensures that he signs up all the individuals he meets to the North Yorkshire Community Messaging service. The service keeps residents in the loop with the latest issues and how the police are combatting them. It’s available via text message, email and voicemail.
As we drive towards our next visit, my conversation with Iain is interrupted as a new call comes through across the crackling police radio. The Forestry Commission has been in touch to say that there are three 4x4 vehicles up on the Moors which have become stuck and caused damage to tracks and a gate.
A quick background check shows at least one of the vehicles is not insured, so it’s up to the team to find out what’s going on.
We meet up with three police officers at the bottom of the hill and following a half-hour, steep hike (I was very glad I wore my walking boots), we reach the scene.
Two gentlemen are trespassing in suspicious circumstances near the vehicles, but seem to be cooperative when confronted by the officers. Following a few on-the-spot fines and a warning from the PC, there are promises made by the offenders to pay to have their vehicles professionally and legally removed from the scene.
Finally, we head over to a recycling centre where Iain undertakes a security check of the premises. Few people know that the police do security checks in theft hotspots, but it’s an important service that people should utilise more. Iain identifies a few areas for security improvement and makes the necessary recommendations (such as painting wall-tops with anti-vandal paint) before we leave and head back to the station.
When I speak to Inspector Jon Grainge, responsible for the task force, he says that this service is a key part of crime prevention.
“We periodically contact people who may be in high risk areas or have been victims of theft previously to ask if they would like us to do a security check of their premises,” he says. “But people who are worried about their own property, farmers and the public alike, are more than welcome to contact us to request a check, which we will provide as soon as we can.”
I’m exhausted by the time we arrive back at the ‘nick’, and I’ve only been on the go for a few hours, never mind the full shifts which the PCSOs and PCs of the task force complete daily. I leave the station after my day out with a feeling of profound respect for the team, and I also believe that the people of rural North Yorkshire should sleep soundly knowing that there is a team out working tirelessly on their behalf.