Equine Rangers relaunch to help tackle rise in rural crime

A team of specially trained horse riders have swung back into action to help combat the rise in rural crime during lockdown and beyond.

Originally launched as a pilot in 2015, the Sussex Equine Rangers now have 14 volunteers who will be tackling rural crime and anti-social behaviour in collaboration with Sussex Police’s newly formed Rural Crime Team.

The Rangers and their horses gathered at Plumpton Racecourse to celebrate their relaunch with Sussex Police Crime Commissioner Katy Bourne, Chief Constable Jo Shiner and the Rural Crime Team who have collectively funded their new kit and enabled the team to recruit new members in the Mid Sussex Area.

Rural crime has risen in the last six months by 20%, increasing from 429 incidents recorded in January 2020 to 533 in June. Burglary, theft of equipment and fly tipping are just some of the offences affecting communities.

A new rural crime team made up of two sergeants, eight constables and six police community support officers (PCSOs) was launched in June. They are working hard to serve the rural community, increase confidence and encourage reporting through preventing crime and carrying out more proactive investigations.

In two months, they patrolled over 10,000 miles of rural roads in Sussex and made 181 intelligence logs. They have also successfully executed several warrants including, the recovery of stolen culturally significant historic items (some worth up to £30k) and located wanted domestic violence and theft suspects.

However, there are areas that cannot currently be easily accessed by these police officers on foot or in 4×4 vehicles. The new team of Equine Rangers will support and work in conjunction with the police by reaching areas like the South Downs National Park and increase vigilance by being able to see over hedges, into gardens, ride along bridleways and through wooded and more remote areas.

The riders will patrol on their own horses over various areas in Mid-Sussex effectively acting as eyes and ears for the police. Every volunteer has been supplied with an application on their phones to facilitate quick reporting and information sharing.

Mrs Bourne said: “I’m delighted to be able to help fund this innovative crime prevention scheme in Sussex.“Through my ongoing consultations with residents and organisations, including the National Farmers’ Union, I know that our rural and village communities can sometimes feel ‘abandoned’.

“Since the Covid-19 lock down, there have been many disturbing reports of fly-tipping and expensive equipment theft as well as other crimes affecting the countryside such as hare coursing and poaching. I want to reassure our rural residents that these crimes will not be ignored, and we are investing in better protecting them and their livelihoods.

“This team of dedicated volunteers will be working alongside our newly established rural crime team, reporting suspicious people, vehicles and activity. This vital intelligence sharing will ensure the police are targeting their own patrols and enforcement in the right areas, keeping people feeling safe where they live and work.”

As Rural Crime continues to rise, Sussex Police rural crime lead, Chief Inspector Steve Biglands is keen to eventually roll out the Equine Rangers to cover all of Sussex. He says: “Since the inception of our rural crime team, we have improved crucial working relationships with farmers and rural business owner and brought a feeling of reassurance to our more isolated communities. This has been done by apprehending key suspects and tackling countryside crimes such as plant machinery, hare coursing and heritage crimes. What has become apparent is that we cannot change criminality and anti-social behaviour on our own, and everyone’s help is required to reduce rural law-breaking. While the police are there to apprehend suspects and enforce the law, we are not always able to provide the constant presence that some communities want. The Equine Rangers are our eyes and ears in places we can’t get to, and it is a privilege to continue working with such a dedicated team of volunteers.”

While all riders are expected to volunteer for a couple of hours a week, most riders at the relaunch ride their horses out daily. Living in rural areas themselves, they are aware of rising crime figures affecting local farms and stables with thieves on the lookout for expensive equipment.

Darren Bullock (Equine Rangers Chairperson) says: “Since the Pilot scheme in 2015 all 13 rangers have remained active and committed to working in partnership with Sussex police. We are delighted the scheme is now permanent and want to take the opportunity of the relaunch to grow the rangers team covering a wider area in collaboration with the rural crime team. Since the Covid -19 pandemic it has become ever more apparent that there is a need and place for volunteer groups like the Equine Rangers to support their rural communities. We are very grateful to Katy Bourne and Sussex Police for their continued support and belief in the scheme.”

The team are in the process of recruiting and training even more volunteers and have already begun increasing their patrols. If you see them riding on the rural roads, they have asked that you pass by them in your car wide and slow so as not to startle or potentially injure the horse on duty.