WITH the closure threat to Dromore and Hillsborough Police Stations having already turned a spotlight on the issue of rural crime locally, there has come a call for targeted action to specifically tackle ‘agri-crime’ provincewide.
Lagan Valley MLA Paul Givan said that against an overall downturn in crime, rural crime was bucking the trend, but called too for “specific measurements” to quantify agricultural crime - affecting farmers/landowners - as opposed to statistics taking in the like of domestic burglaries in rural villages.
Mr. Givan spoke to a motion, tabled by the DUP, calling for convicted perpetrators of rural crime to receive heavier sentences and for landowners to be afforded clarity as to how they could defend their property.
The DUP MLA and Stormont Justice Committee Chairman called on police to take a pro-active approach against agricultural crime.
“While crime statistics indicate that general crime is on the decrease,” he said, “it is evident that crime in rural areas is increasing.
“When it comes to the police and how they measure crime, we need specific measurements around agriculture-related crime. It is not sufficient to lump crimes of this nature under the heading ‘rural crime’; there are large villages across Lagan Valley, and, if thefts take place on domestic properties, it will count as a rural crime. We need a specific target for agriculture-related crime and to have it broken down. I know that, in other areas of Northern Ireland, there are farm schemes where there are great networks within the farming community, and, if the police can properly harness those, we will get the information that would allow the police to respond much more quickly than is the case currently.
“Locally, as elected representatives, we should do all that we can to support the farming community in tackling what is a very serious criminal activity that impacts upon many people.”
Mr. Givan also appealed to farmers to be vigilant.
In recent weeks Dromore Ulster Unionist Councillor Carol Black insisted the planned closure of Dromore and Hillsborough police stations, alongside the loss of the Dromara base - which would rob a wide rural area of any fixed police presence - would have particular impact on country dwellers, a view apparently shared in broader terms by TUV leader Jim Allister, who, during the Assembly debate on rural crime insisted local police stations were key to tackling it.
It was an issue, he said, that had been causing rising tension and resentment among the farming community. For farmers who had likely put in “indescribably long hours” building up what they had to see it stolen was a sickening experience, he said, and tackling the problem required active police pursuit. “We will not get that by closing police stations,” he said. “That is for sure.”