COUNTY Durham and Darlington contain some of the most spectacular scenery in the country. It’s great that the Durham Dales retain much of their traditional character and I enjoy visiting whenever I go there to meet local people.

Our rural areas are also very safe places to live and work. We’re not immune to crime, however, and police officers know there is no room for complacency in the quest to keep crime levels low.

Crime in rural areas is different to that in towns. Our officers have to address incidents such as wildlife crime, theft of farm equipment and fly-tipping.

This week, Chief Constable Mike Barton and I are launching our Rural Policing Statement 2019, setting out our commitment to rural communities.

Of course, the job of policing any part of County Durham or Darlington has been made harder over the past few years as a consequence of substantial cuts to my budget. Funding from Government has reduced by a quarter since 2010, and we have lost about 400 Police Officers as a result. It’s a sad reality that policing in our rural communities has been affected by this as much as anywhere in the Durham Constabulary area. Nonetheless, results from the National Rural Crime Survey 2018 shows that Durham Constabulary has a much better reputation amongst rural communities than most other Police Forces which cover rural areas.

Mike Barton and I remain strongly committed to neighbourhood policing in rural areas. I’m pleased that a very experienced Inspector, Ed Turner, has recently come into post to take charge of the Neighbourhood teams in Weardale and Teesdale. Ed is establishing strong links with the local communities, and has a very clear understanding of the issues they face. He is keen to maintain a meaningful dialogue with local people.

There are other things that we are doing to enhance the safety of our rural communities. Increasing numbers of local people are participating in Community Speedwatch, working with the police to monitor and address concerns about speeding on rural roads. The number of Speedwatch schemes in rural areas has increased by two thirds since 2016. Similarly, Farmwatch, a partnership between the Constabulary and farmers, is well established and successful – and throughout the Dales, we’re seeking opportunities for it to be even more innovative and creative. It enables the Police and our partners to share intelligence, work together to set up operations, and overall to create a safer environment. Rural communities can also have items such as farm equipment, bikes and so on indelibly marked using our ‘Dot Peen’ device – just contact your local policing team to find out more. Once they have been marked, the items can be listed on a national register so that, if they are stolen, they are more likely to be returned to their owner if they turn up elsewhere in the country.

There’s more to come in 2019. I have recently agreed to pay for an extended fleet of drones, which, over time, will undoubtedly improve officers’ capacity in a number of areas, including in having sight of large rural areas quickly. The Constabulary is also planning to recruit more Police Community Support Volunteers, enabling a greater police presence in rural areas. And I’m pleased that research is taking place nationally to better understand the barriers faced by victims of domestic abuse in more isolated, rural, communities.

Partnerships are very important to us. For example, we have continue to work with the Rural Affairs Strategic Group, a forum where people living and working in rural areas meet police officers to discuss rural crime, anti-social behaviour, and how we can work together to tackle it. Our biggest partnership is with local residents: no one has a better knowledge of these issues than people who live locally. If you experience crime, anti-social behaviour, or you want us to be aware of an issue that concerns you, please don’t hesitate to contact us on 101, 999 (emergencies only), or anonymously through Crimestoppers’ new dedicated Rural Crime Reporting Line on 0800 783 0137. You will be taken very seriously and the Police will want to help.

Rural Policing Statement 2019 can be found at