Policing in Rural Areas is Unfairly Funded, writes Tony Hogg, Police and Crime Commissioner for Devon, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly

Policing is full of numbers and you may be forgiven for being a little bamboozled by the figures that fly around. The most recent Office for National Statistics figures show that many crime types are falling which has given ministers the chance to reiterate their claim that falling crime means the police can work with less money. I strongly dispute that. Yes crime may be falling in some areas but reduction in recorded crime does not indicate falling demand on police officers.

The College of Policing has produced evidence recently which clearly shows that crime accounts for a relatively small proportion of police work. Whilst  police efforts to tackle theft and other acquisitive crime are paying off,  there remains an increasing complexity in the nature of police work that’s down to cyber crime, child sexual exploitation, domestic and sexual abuse and modern slavery. In addition non-crime issues such as mental health and missing persons increase the burden. The crime mix is skewed towards more complex offences such as violent crime and sexual offences. Rates for these crimes are relatively high and require more support for victims and close working with partners to address effectively. In a rural area, like Devon and Cornwall, this is complicated further by the additional challenges posed by our geography with very limited major road network which comes under immense strain in the summer months.

To take a simplified example, violent crime in urban areas can be broken down into a number of sub-categories each of which can be predicted in location, time and profile of victim and offender. Violence in the night-time economy for example is largely confined to predictable areas with a vibrant night-life and the times when pubs and bars are open and/or closing. Domestic violence in an urban context also occurs largely in well-defined residential areas is well observed and reported by neighbours or other passers-by and local support mechanisms are accessible to victims. By contrast, policing violence within a rural environment is relatively sporadic, unpredictable and presents a much greater challenge.

Work undertaken by my office has revealed the disparity in funding between rural policing and the larger metropolitan forces. Figures show that the Government provides Devon and Cornwall with £104 per head of population whilst the Metropolitan Police gets £226. I don’t suggest that London, or any other metropolitan area doesn’t have significant policing challenges but current funding ignores the challenges we face down here in the south west. This discrimination is built into the funding formula. It is exacerbated because the formula takes no account of our tourist influx nor properly recognises rurality. Although the current formula contains a measure of population sparcity, academic analysis has indicated that this perversely favours metropolitan areas overall. This is because it is a negative factor in relation to a number of the crime elements with the effect that the overall effect of this factor is not to our advantage. Put simply, the formula proposes that being rural means you have less crime and therefore require fewer resources to police it. I would argue that there is little evidence to suggest that real crime figures in rural areas are lower and that the geographic distances to investigate and prevent such crime requires greater resources than it would in a built up area.

Any future formula should provide a better reflection of the costs associated with tackling crime in sparsely populated, large geographical areas.

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