How farming Specials are helping Norfolk police crack down on rural crime
Norfolk police are recruiting a growing number of farmers and countryside dwellers to join the ranks of the Special Constabulary and help stamp out rural crime.
When a particular landscape offers opportunities for criminals, it requires a special kind of crime-fighter to stop them.
So to prevent Norfolk’s secluded countryside becoming a haven for fly-tippers, hare-coursers or tractor thieves, the specialist knowledge of the agricultural community has been brought into service by the police.
Working farmers are among the part-time volunteer force of “specials” patrolling the fields and villages as part of Operation Randall, which was launched by Norfolk Constabulary in 2011 following concerns from rural communities about crime in the countryside.
And this growing team is looking for more recruits with an understanding of rural life.
Volunteers must devote a minimum of 20 hours a month, and have the same fitness and training requirements as regular officers – affording them the same legal powers, including the power of arrest.
Kevin Banham, 58, arable manager at the 1,000-acre Hall Farm in Necton, near Swaffham, has been a special for 21 years. He is now the operational inspector for Operation Randall, volunteering 30-60 hours a month.
“Initially when I started doing this 21 years ago, it was just because there were people out there who are willing to deprive others of their property and I thought if I could do something to help stop that, I would give it a go,” he said.
“I enjoy it to the degree where I don’t mind how many hours I’m out there doing the job. But it all depends on the farm work, especially at harvest time. Work comes first, that is the bit that pays the bills. We have to keep the peace all round, and I have to prioritise between home life, work life and specials, and that is not always easy to do.”
Mr Banham recalled one incident where his skills were put to good use. “One night myself and James (fellow special James Spinks) had a call that someone had stolen a tanker in Hockwold and they needed some extra people to assist,” he said.
“We found the stolen tanker and the stolen tractor and, because of my background, I was able to start it and drive it out, so we recovered both the tractor and the tanker from the forest. I had a regular colleague there and he said he would never have got it out of the trees.”
James Spinks is a workshop administrator for farm machinery dealer Ben Burgess in Norwich, but also acting specials chief inspector for Operation Randall. His 15-year spell in the specials began in Norwich, where he made many arrests for shoplifting, drink driving and public order before moving to a more rural beat.
“It is the variety that makes it interesting,” he said. “You can go from something simple like herding cattle off the road to searching from stolen items or working in partnership with the Environment Agency. You never know what’s going to be around the corner.”
Det Con Andy Brown of Norfolk police has been responsible for the Operation Randall rural crime team since last May. He was a special for six years before joining the regulars. He said his team, which has recently been equipped with 4x4 vehicles and quad bikes, were often called to help with wildlife crime or thefts of farm equipment, heating oil and trailers.
“We want people within the rural crime team that are rural people and know about farming and understand rural issues,” he said. “When you are coming up on farmland, there is so much to understand, because you cannot just drive onto a piggery, for example, because of the disease control measures. But they don’t need to be farmers, our specials do a range of different jobs.
“The likes of Kevin work on this land and farmers will tell him more than they will tell others. They know their stuff and they will speak to a lot of similar people.”
Norfolk’s police and crime commissioner Lorne Green said tackling rural crime was one of his top priorities.
“According to county council statistics, 60pc of this county is considered rural,” he said. “Rural crime is a wide and all-encompassing concept that is not unique to the farming or wildlife communities. It is everything from stealing a £45,000 tractor to stealing 200 gallons of diesel oil.
“Policing is intelligence-driven and that can mean inside information, but also knowing what you are talking about. It is absolutely essential we can draw on the extra information from the rural community. Special constables are special because they are volunteers and because they bring specialist knowledge.
“Since I was elected a year ago we have increased the specials from six to 23, and we are making an enormous appeal for people to come forward to increase those numbers.”
Earlier this week, fly tipping came top of the public’s list of concerns at Norfolk’s first “barnstorming” session on rural crime, hosted by the commissioner.
At the meeting, Supt Dave Buckley said operations against hare coursers had led to 18 arrests, 16 people charged, nine convicted and 29 dogs seized.
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