North Yorkshire Police Chief Constable, Lisa Winward, is the first in a series of four high profile interviews to be published in British Farmer & Grower magazine in 2019. Talking to Rachel Gillbanks, she discussed her aspirations for the Force’s response to rural crime.
“The police are the public and the public are the police.” This famous quote attributed to statesman Sir Robert Peel - who is widely regarded as the father of modern policing – is one that increasingly strikes a chord today.
Certainly listening to Lisa Winward – the new Chief Constable of North Yorkshire Police – talking about her approach to rural crime, it’s clear people are at the heart of her thinking.
From starting her career as a Special Constable in York, to now being appointed the National Police Chiefs Council lead for ‘citizens in policing’, CC Winward has a passion for inspiring greater collaboration between the police and the communities they serve.
While acknowledging that police officers need to foster and support that closer relationship, she says input from the public, whether in the form of intelligence or more practical involvement, is crucial in the fight against crime.
Born in Liverpool, CC Winward has had a home in rural Ryedale for many years – allowing her to see at first-hand the impact of rural crime – the sense of isolation it provokes, the fear of crime and of course the practical ramifications of property theft or damage.
“My goal is to make North Yorkshire a safer place for local communities,” she said. “Even though figures suggest the cost of rural crime in North Yorkshire is falling, that cost is still significant. More than that though, I also want people to feel safe and have confidence in the police.”
This is no mean feat, with ongoing financial pressures meaning the force has to save £10m over the next four years.
Once again though, her instinct is to put people first. “I firmly believe that people deliver the police service, so we will be working hard to streamline our processes rather than our workforce,” she said.
Key to the force’s approach is its rural taskforce, which is now in its third year and is at the forefront of best practice nationally. For the chief constable, the taskforce is the hub of specialist knowledge on rural crime and the conduit for disseminated that knowledge throughout the force.
Talking to her about police powers to tackle rural crime, she says the first priority has to be making the best use of current legislation.
“Just as lawyers specialise in particular fields such as family, corporate or criminal law, so police officers need specialist knowledge to operate effectively. This is the case with rural crime.
“We already have a wide range of powers that we can use to tackle rural crime – the key is understanding the legislation and knowing how to apply it.
“Take trespass for example, where some are calling for new legislation, we can already charge an offender with ‘aggravated tresspass’ – in other words where someone trespasses to commit a crime - and section 30 of the Game Act allows officers to pursue a prosecution where people are caught trespassing in pursuit of game.”
Not only are taskforce officers charged with developing links with rural communities, they are also involved, along with stakeholders such as the NFU, with ‘upskilling’ other staff - sharing their expertise and knowledge to improve the way the force as a whole responds to rural crime.
With the 101 service under severe pressure thanks to a spiralling number of calls, CC Winward says every communication platform must be exploited. North Yorkshire has invested £3m in its 101 call handling service, bringing in more staff and improving facilities, but says CC Winward, if they are to achieve the responsive policing she wants to see, platforms such as Facebook and Whatsapp will have to be used to best effect.
“Social media platforms already support police investigations and allow officers to provide feedback to members of the community,” she said. “We need to be innovative and embrace new technology to respond positively to crime, particularly the organised crime that is responsible for so much criminality in rural areas - everything from vehicle theft to hare coursing.”
The challenges faced, with increasingly sophisticated criminals, are never far from her mind but she says the police are working hard to respond.
“Criminals are quick to exploit new opportunities and use the borders between forces to their advantage,” she said. “We are very aware of the need to work even more closely with our neighbouring forces. We already share intelligence, mount joint operations and work together to target specific individuals, but of course there is more to do.
“This approach is gaining ground and only a couple of weeks ago we saw the first national day of action on rural crime – a sign of how far we have come in recognising the importance of tackling crime in rural communities.
“There are more opportunities than ever for rural crime groups to meet with other forces to share experiences and best practice and this brings me back to the importance of forging ever stronger links with local people.”
Reporting all instances of crime is crucial, but CC Winward says she’s committed to making that process as easy as possible, to making the police force as flexible and responsive as possible and to building a comprehensive picture of crime across her patch.
The three most frequent crimes in rural North Yorkshire are vehicle/machinery theft, poaching and wildlife crime and livestock theft, but the force is constantly working to get a better understanding of all crime. A recent project across five forces nationally, for example, has examined how incidents of dog attacks on livestock can be better recorded. This work involves a new national working group on livestock offences and industry stakeholders alongside the government and crime prosecution service.
This attention to detail is important because so much of policing is fitting together the pieces of a jigsaw - one reason why CC Winward is quick to welcome the new Crimestoppers rural number launched by the NFU.
“If we are to make real progress, we all have to work together,” she said. “The smallest bit of information provided anonymously could be the last piece in the jigsaw that completes a picture leading to prosecution.
“The challenge is not an easy one and we must never be complacent. I am proud of the way North Yorkshire has responded on rural crime but of course we can, and must always do better. I hope our local communities will work with us to make a real difference.”