A new scheme is aiming to unite rural communities across the county in the fight against rural crime.
Rural Watch has been set up to create a wide network of villagers, farmers, churches and businesses encouraging them to report crimes and suspicious activity in their area and enabling them to share information quickly to help police catch criminals and deter criminal activity.
The free-to-join scheme was launched this week by Leicestershire Police at a multi-agency event held at Melton Cattle Market.
It brings together several existing schemes, including Horse Watch, Church Watch and Farm Watch, all under one banner to create a bigger network and to help ensure everyone has access to advice and information.
Figures released by rural insurer NFU Mutual have shown that rural crime cost Leicestershire £750,000 in 2014, confirming the seriousness of the issue across the county.
One of the benefits of Rural Watch is that people who sign up will become part of an alert system called FastText that will keep them informed of what’s happening where they live and work. Police say members can also expect to benefit from better use of social media to keep them informed on crime-related matters.
Gate signs are also available to members to help deter criminals and, as part of the scheme, a number of crime prevention events will be taking place where people can get crime prevention advice assessments from local police officers or specific support and advice.
Deputy Chief Constable Roger Bannister said: “Our communities are vital in helping us to tackle crime. They are our eyes and ears when it comes to the areas in which they live.
“We want people to ring in and report crime. By encouraging them to report to us any suspicious activity, we can respond more effectively and work with them to make their communities even safer.
“Being a member of the scheme is a two way process. We will provide members with crime alert messages, telling them about incidents that have occurred and, in exchange, we ask our Rural Watch members to actively report suspicious persons, vehicles or activity to us by calling 101.
“Rural Watch brings together the best bits of other schemes already running and perhaps most importantly it’s for the police to try and do a little bit better and work a little bit harder at getting information out there as quickly as possible and trying to improve communication.”
“We hope Rural Watch will give a clear message that the rural communities are committed to working together to actively prevent, deter and catch criminals.”
Steve Jeal, senior group secretary of NFU Mutual in Melton, said: “I like the idea of Rural Watch. It’s easy and free to join and it brings everything together under one umbrella. It raises awareness of rural crime, keeps members informed quickly using modern technology and it’s a great opportunity for people to find out more about crime prevention.”
Peter Voller, who is involved with the Barrowden Neighbourhood Watch scheme, said: “I think Rural Watch makes sense but I don’t think we can’t expect the police to do everything for us. We need to be aware and pass information on to each other, especially in small rural communities.
“If we don’t accept responsibility for our property and don’t co-operate and help each other then we shouldn’t be surprised if we get things stolen and don’t get them back.”
Rural Watch is open to anyone who lives, works or visits rural locations in Leicestershire and Rutland. For more information visit www.leics.police.uk/ruralwatch