Our beautiful buildings need to be cherished and we must do whatever we can to keep heritage crime rates as low as possible. We are talking about our future prosperity in the county, which is an important part of my Police and Crime Plan. There are various definitions of heritage crime but for me heritage crime is any offence that involves damage to the historic environment or heritage assets, including cultural property. Part of my role as Suffolk Police and Crime Commissioner is to ensure our Constabulary is adequately resourced to deal with these crimes when they occur and, as a society, we do everything possible to prevent criminality and anti-social behaviour causing damage in the first place.
Sadly the threat of heritage crime covers many types, including mindless vandalism, graffiti, metal theft and arson. Night hawking – the theft of archaeological artefacts under cover of darkness from protected sites – is another criminal activity which must be prevented. I didn’t realise that the remains of military aircraft and vessels are protected by law, and offenders face unlimited fines if found guilty of interfering with these sites without official permission. There has been legal protection for listed historic sites from 1882 and there are over 20,000 scheduled monuments in the country, including many old battlefields. Research from English Heritage discovered 18.7% of listed buildings in 2012 in England were physically affected by crime and 3 in 8 of our churches or other religious buildings were damaged, including a staggering 14% from metal theft. Tourism is one of our most important industries here in Suffolk and there is no doubt that heritage is a very important component attracting visitors to spend their money here and contribute to economic growth. So what can be done to reduce the prevalence of heritage crime?
In Suffolk we have a dedicated rural crime team, which is doing an excellent job – the new unit is supported by Suffolk’s two dedicated rural Special Constabulary units. Nearly all of these people come from a rural background or live and work in rural communities so they have a very good understanding of the negative impact heritage crime has in rural areas. Through more training and improved awareness of staff – the benefits of Suffolk’s heritage assets are now fully recognised throughout the Constabulary. Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) has a vital role to play in combatting all crimes and this will make life more difficult for criminals as the technology spreads throughout the county and not just in patrol cars on the main roads.
Ultimately the good old-fashioned methods still have a major role to play. Anyone seeing suspicious activity must not hesitate to call 101 or if any doubt always call 999. Local media has an important role in this process to keep heritage crime high on the agenda. I’m a great believer that unacceptable loutish behaviour such as vandalism and graffiti should never be tolerated but equally if it does occur then the damage must be put right as quickly as possible as it can attract further bad behaviour. So if we all act together our heritage will remain safe and secure and I’m convinced that’s what will happen.