Tackling rural crime

thumb-large-2 Peter Cheney assesses the trends for and the particular impact of crime in rural areas.

Crime in the countryside is generally lower than in urban areas but a rural crime can have a similar or indeed a disproportionate impact on the victim due to a householder’s isolation. Journalists often find that a burglary or assault committed in a rural area is more distressing as it is less expected by the victim.

Statistically, the PSNI explains that crime is traditionally higher in urban and deprived areas (where it is often more organised) and in other places with an higher than usual day-time population or a strong night-time economy.

In 2012-2013, the average recorded crime rate for Northern Ireland stood at 55 per 1,000 people. Among districts with a mainly rural population, Limavady had the highest crime rate (59). Asked to explain this why this was the case, a PSNI spokesman declined to comment on any localised factors. He pointed to the statistical reasons outlined above and said that Limavady ranked twenty-first out of 29 policing areas for total crime since 1998.

Newry and Mourne (47), Fermanagh (46) and Down (45) were mid-ranking while Omagh, Cookstown, Dungannon, Banbridge and Strabane were in the 40-42 bracket. Armagh, Ards, Moyle and Magherafelt had rates in the 30s while the safest area appeared to be Ballymoney (27).

Since 1998, when post-Troubles statistics began, the crime rate has risen in Limavady, Banbridge and Magherafelt and fallen in other rural districts.

Many rural areas have higher rates for clearing up crime than Northern Ireland as a whole. The regional detection rate is 26.4 per cent and the highest local rate is 36.5 per cent in Omagh.

Detections in seven other mainly districts are above average: Cookstown, Magherafelt, Newry and Mourne, Fermanagh, Limavady, Dungannon and Strabane. However, five districts, mainly east of the Bann, are below average: Down, Armagh, Banbridge, Moyle and Ards.

The general crime trends appear positive but do not take into account crimes which are not recorded – perhaps half of all crime – often because the victim considers the matter too trivial or thinks that police would or could not investigate. That is a major frustration for police officers as their prevention and investigative work becomes more effective as more information is brought forward.

It’s also notable that while overall recorded crime is decreasing, violent crime is increasing. This naturally increases the fear of crime – a particularly isolating factor in the countryside.

Police advice to rural communities emphasises that burglars and thieves often travel around rural areas to look for opportunities. Thefts mostly take place at night but some occur during the day with the offender using various excuses in order to gain entry.

Robust and secure gates, fencing and walls and good lighting are recommended as a deterrent. CCTV and alarms can cover vulnerable parts of the property. Marking machinery or installing a tracker system can help detectives to return it to the rightful owner.

A single, secure building that is close to the home or farm dwelling could be used to store tools and smaller items of machinery. A rural crime watch can also bring neighbours together and encourage people to report their suspicions.

Crime prevention officers can also visit people and advise them about how to protect their home, business and family. Requests for visits can be made by calling the non-emergency number: 101.

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