Tony Hogg: 'I'll crack down on crime in rural areas'
Rural crime which costs the Westcountry economy millions of pounds every year is a "major priority", Devon and Cornwall's police and crime commissioner has insisted.
Many countryside communities have complained of being the "poor relation" in policing terms, with resources being pulled into the region's larger towns and cities.
Those fears have been exacerbated as the force has shrunk – losing some 400 police officers in the last two years – to meet Government- imposed budget cuts of almost £50 million.
But police commissioner Tony Hogg said he was determined to reduce rural crime "significantly" and that areas would receive "a fair share of resources".
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He said: "There are so many aspects to rural crime, and it costs private landowners, rural businesses and individual householders millions of pounds every year.
"It poses a real threat to the stability of our rural economy. We must understand the real impact it makes and how it seriously affects so many lives.
"There is a wide variety of crime prevalent in our rural communities. Everything from the theft of tools, fuel, metal, machinery and livestock, to fly-tipping, trespass and wildlife crime.
"There are many others, of course, and when you add in more well-publicised crimes, such as domestic and sexual abuse, alcohol and drug-related crime and traffic issues, it's is easy to understand why the careful use of resources and a well-constructed rural policing strategy is so important."
Figures from the latest National Farmers' Union (NFU) Mutual survey show the cost of rural crime rose 6% to more than £53 million, including an estimated £7.6 million in the South West.
Tools, quad bikes, and metals were identified as the items most commonly targeted.
Mr Hogg stressed there would be no "favourites" when it came to allocating policing resources. However, he said there were "no easy answers" at a time when the force is continuing to have to make multi-million-pound savings.
"Rural crime costs millions of pounds each year, and I can give you an assurance that I will be doing working alongside Chief Constable Shaun Sawyer to reduce this significantly," he added. "The real impact goes way beyond the monetary losses, and that is why it is a major priority."
Mr Hogg has raised the police element of council tax by 2% for next year, increasing a Band D bill to £169.92.
That will keep police officer numbers above 3,000, some 200 more than had originally been forecast.
Mr Hogg said the extra cash would give neighbourhood policing "a bigger profile".
He also wants to up the number of special constables in Devon and Cornwall by 200 over a four-year period, many of which he hopes will be linked to rural communities.