We knew the problem of heritage crime existed, but we only had low knowledge of it and it was grouped alongside mainstream crimes such as ASB, theft and criminal damage.
The scheme was launched in April 2014 by Hertfordshire Constabulary, with the support of English Heritage and Hertfordshire County Council.
It was introduced at heritage sites and museums across Hertfordshire, including Hatfield House, the Henry Moore Foundation in Much Hadham and Royston Cave.
Heritage crime is any offence which targets the historic environment.
It includes crimes against natural landmarks, cathedrals and ancient battle fields – and crimes against cultural property, such as pieces of art, jade and rhino horn.
Heritage crime covers a wide variety of criminal activity which can damage assets forever.
These include architectural theft, anti-social behaviour, criminal damage, unauthorised excavation and metal detecting, damage by vehicles, metal theft and theft of historical and cultural property.
Offences have been more prevalent in recent years due to the economic downturn as criminals have turned their attention to metal theft and the illegal trade of assets.
Heritage Watch aims to reduce crime by improving communication between the police, those who have an interest in Hertfordshire’s heritage and people who live near heritage sites.
Members receive regular updates about issues or crimes at heritage sites in their local areas.
They are also signed up to Neighbourhood Watch’s OWL (Online Watch Link) system which keeps them up to date with crimes and police events happening nearby.
Hertfordshire chief constable Andy Bliss, who is the national policing lead for heritage crime and cultural property, said it was important to protect historical and cultural assets.
“People who live close to historical sites and those who have a real interest in our local history tend to frequent the county’s areas of historical interest more often and are therefore likely to notice anything suspicious or out of the ordinary.”
Putting right damage caused to heritage assets can lead to repair bills of hundreds of thousands of pounds. Hertfordshire Constabulary is keen to encourage more members to join the scheme.
Chief constable Bliss said: “Through joining Heritage Watch, we hope the public will become the ‘eyes and ears’ of these precious sites and artefacts and report anything suspicious to us.”
Nick Moorhouse, director of operations at Hatfield House, said heritage preservation was important to gain a full appreciation of the county’s history through the centuries.
“All heritage sites have a duty to ensure that their heritage property is maintained in the best possible condition at all times for the benefit of all those who live in or visit the county.”
Mr Moorhouse added: “We believe we have a collective responsibility to keep a watchful eye on and report suspicious behaviour at our heritage sites.”
Mark Harrison, national policing and crime advisor at English Heritage, said heritage crime reduced the quality of local life as well as damaging protected buildings and archaeological sites.
Mr Harrison said he hoped local communities would come together to form Heritage Watch networks to help protect and preserve heritage for future generations.”
Identifying the problem
The problem was identified by English Heritage ARCH who began approaching constabularies to see what work they were doing.
The main problem within forces was a lack of understanding and police were grouping offences with main stream offences.
As metal theft from war memorials, ASB around old phone boxes, museums were being targeted and criminal damage / arson caused to listed buildings, we weren’t seeing the bigger picture in that all these crimes are potentially ruining our heritage and history and we were dealing them in an isolated manner rather than grouping them under the umbrella of heritage crime.
The locations of these heritage sites and artefacts are often more isolated and vulnerable and do not have adequate security. Also as mentioned above with the economic downturn, criminals were turning their attention to easier targets.
The consequences of us not properly addressing heritage crime could potentially mean the loss of parts of our local history and artefacts forever. Some sites and artefacts are irreplaceable meaning future generations could not enjoy them. Not to mention the potential economic costs as well.
Legislation changes - Existing
There is bespoke legislation for crimes against heritage sites and artefacts. But we didn’t want to confuse our staff with this legislation and thought it better they should investigate crimes still as main stream crimes, but take the heritage element into consideration and record it as a heritage crime. The heritage legislation element can then be bought in later with partners.
If the heritage crime element is taken into consideration when the case comes to court. Heftier sentences and fines can be expected.
As our Chief is the national lead for heritage crime, he also led the ACPO Heritage and Cultural Property Crime Working Group and Hertfordshire Constabulary wrote the ‘Heritage and Cultural Property Crime National Policing Assessment’ this provided an overview of the key issues affecting the prevention, enforcement, and sharing of intelligence in relation to crimes and anti-social behaviour committed against heritage assets and cultural property in the UK.
The overall strategic aims of the assessment and the working group were to:
Reduce Heritage and Cultural Property Crime both nationally and internationally
Bring to justice those offenders involved in crimes against the historic environment and cultural property both within the United Kingdom and in partnership with law enforcement professionals across the world
Ensure the continued security and presence of both the historic environment and cultural property for future generations in the United Kingdom and across the world
Maximise the sharing of intelligence and co-operation between the cross –sector agencies with responsibility for advising on and ensuring the security of heritage assets and cultural property.
In Hertfordshire we raised awareness amongst staff and officers about heritage crime and the issues surrounding it.
The force also introduced heritage crime into our crime recording and systems so the extent of offences could be monitored more effectively.
The Constabulary was the second force in the country to introduce Heritage Watch – a scheme that encourages members of the public to sign up and become the ‘eyes and ears’ of our country’s precious heritage sites and artefacts. Through joining the scheme, the public is also kept up to date with heritage offences happening in their local area and anything affecting heritage crime regionally and nationally.
Through a public relations campaign regarding the launch of Heritage Watch, awareness was raised across the county about heritage crime and how the public can help to support police by reporting any suspicious activity around heritage sites and artefacts. As well as local press, web and social media coverage, a feature appeared on Countryfile about heritage crime to an audience of 8 million people.
As part of the campaign, key heritage sites were bought in and pledged their support to the scheme.
Marketing materials to support the launch of Heritage Watch have also been created to help in the recruitment of members. This includes posters, leaflets and banners. Some of these have been sent to key heritage sites across the county who supported the launch of the campaign. Essex police hopes to replicate these for their own launch.
Our heritage crime recording systems put in place appear to be working well and the public are kept informed about heritage crimes in their areas through Neighbourhood Watch’s OWL system.
We do however need to sign up more Heritage Watch members and once further training is rolled out across the force and planned community engagement events take place throughout the summer, this is hoped to improve.
What didn't work
It is early days and although we have the systems in place to effectively monitor crimes. Work is being undertaken to ensure officers are taking the time to consider whether the crime and to therefore record it appropriately.
At present we do not feel we are getting as accurate a view as we would like of the extent of heritage crime across the county. This is being address through internal awareness raising and training.
Heritage crime is now more at the forefront of people’s minds and is no longer being grouped in alongside mainstream crimes.
We are beginning to get more of an idea of the extent of heritage crimes across the county and Heritage Watch members. Police officers in Hertfordshire are more aware of heritage crime and are treating offences more appropriately.
Heritage Watch is a scheme which aims to help fight crime and anti-social behaviour at the county’s heritage sites by improving communication between people who live near historical sites, those who take a keen interest in the county’s heritage and the police.
Hertfordshire Constabulary, with the support of English Heritage and Hertfordshire County Council, launched Heritage Watch in April last year – a scheme which aims to protect the county’s thousands of historical sites, monuments and artefacts from heritage and cultural property crime.