Newer models are designed to use the Mobile 3G data network as well as ultra low powered models that can work purely from solar cells recharging batteries
Innovative surveillance technology, relaxation in UK Data Protection Laws and shared resources are key to curb rural crimes

The significant rise in crime in rural areas in recent times in the UK has led to growing calls from security and crime prevention experts for government to make it easier for communities and law enforcement to fight back. “In our areas, every farm within a 5 mile radius has had trespass, some kind of theft of property, plant or livestock in the last year,” comments Richard Hoyle, a farmer based near Brentwood in Essex,UK.

Cost of rising rural crime

Data from insurer NFU Mutual's Rural Crime Survey (RCS) shows that two-thirds of branches had reported an increase in rural crime in their area. In England alone, theft cost to farmers hit £42.8m in 2010, up 26% on the previous year. The high prices for scrap metal and oil also led to them becoming key targets for thieves.

Hoyle experienced the issue himself when thieves stole items from his farm to speed off in a Renault branded car. However what the criminals didn't realize was that “Farmer” Hoyle is also an expert in video surveillance as Managing Director of Advitel, a local CCTV firm.

The entire incident had been recorded via a high-resolution digital CCTV system that covers his land, which included the number plate of the vehicle and clear evidential quality images of the culprits. With the details in hand, traffic police were able to apprehend the vehicle after a short chase, which was featured in the British Channel 5 show, “Police Interceptor.”

Innovative video surveillance technology, relaxation in Data Protection Laws in the UK and shared resources are key to curbing rural crime way, say experts

“Thieves assume rightly that most farmers don't have access to this type of technology,” Hoyle comments and feels that most are not prepared to shoulder the expense of installation, running costs as well as many of the technical and legal hurdles.

Using CCTV security systems to monitor rural areas

One of the main problems with operating CCTV in rural areas is power and connectivity for the images to be viewed remotely.  Mike Lewis, a CCTV expert for MOBOTIX, a large CCTV supplier to organizations like Police, Councils & Commercial properties believes that the new generation of CCTV equipment has effectively solved some of the major issues.

CCTV cameras used to combat rural crime
Operating CCTV in rural areas can present challenge as power source is not readily available

Newer models are designed to use the Mobile 3G data network as well as ultra low powered models that can work purely from solar cells recharging batteries. The security cameras only activate when there is movement, which allows them to be self-sufficient for years without maintenance. “Some of the newer CCTV models can also store video internally which can then be remotely downloaded only if an incident has occurred.” Lewis adds.

As the MOBOTIX CCTV expert points out that this, “is not science fiction, we already have 500 of our security cameras deployed by Viasala for remote roadside monitoring systems used by an organization like the Highways Agency at rural locations across the UK.”

Legal issues surrounding use of CCTV systems

The other issue is legal restrictions on where a CCTV system can be sited; who it can film, who has access to the footage and sharing that information as part of Freedom of Information requests. “Putting a CCTV camera that overlooks a road is a tricky legal issue [in the UK],” explains Hoyle, “It makes it hard for small rural communities to erect communal security cameras that are able to protect an area by monitoring crucial approach roads or junctions.”

Even with advances in technology driving down the cost of CCTV cameras, 3G providing universal access to the footage and eco-power sources at hand; the cost of monitoring is seen as prohibitive. However, Lewis believes that existing CCTV technologies used for congestion charging schemes accross the UK offers a solution. “If you look at the statistics, 95% of rural crime involves a motor vehicle, normally transit vans, which are easily identifiable via Number Plate Recognition (NPR) technology, such as the congestion zones in many cities.”

Datqa protection
There are several legal issues to consider when placing a CCTV overlooking a public area
Lewis believes that similar automated surveillance systems that simply log vehicles in an area that then allow footage to be correlated in the event of an incident could provide solutions to both privacy concerns and rural security. “There would be nobody sitting at screens all day long prying on innocent people driving around the countryside, but if there was a theft, the system could quickly divulge an image of vehicles in and around the area between a set of times.”

Schemes in place to help combat crime

Hoyle is also an active member in his local Farm Watch, a close federation of regional schemes that help rural communities combat crime in the UK. In his view, unless more resources are dedicated to the problem – it is bound to get worse. “Most of these thefts happen between 12am and 6am and in a location where the nearest neighbor is miles away, thieves know that even if they are disturbed – they will probably escape scot-free.”

“It is not just money or grants, simple things like having a register of where security cameras are located and a common method for the police to access them to help investigate rural crime would help. Then people can add systems to a growing network that makes it harder for criminals to get away without being spotted by at least one CCTV system,” he notes.

The British Home Office also currently has a £10 million ‘Community Action against Crime Innovation Fund’ with £5m available for this year and a further £5m for 2012/13

The British Government has a scheme to invest around £170 million in CCTV but of the £67 million already handed out; the majority has gone to major transport infrastructure, large cities and housing estates. However, The British Home Office also currently has a £10 million ‘Community Action against Crime Innovation Fund’with £5m available for this year and a further £5m for 2012/13. The purpose of the Innovation Fund is to stimulate creative new approaches to tackling crime by empowering local groups to develop innovative projects to tackle local community safety problems. “Unless communities can work together to provide proposals that can benefit wider regions, it is hard to secure funding – we really need to become more creative in the use of technology,” Hoyle adds.

In the few rural schemes where district councils have invested in shared CCTV monitoring, it has delivered significant benefit in allowing police to better allocate resources, reduce crime and lower insurance premiums. “What we would like is help from the government to form local community groups that will share some of the burden in setting up CCTV zones with the government assisting in covering the cost of developing monitoring systems in concert with local police forces,” explains Hoyle.

“Even having the ability to put up security cameras at junctions along with clear signs saying that CCTV and NPR technology is active in the area will deter the opportunistic thieves – this would be a good start, but again, rural district councils have no clear incentive or funding to do what would be considered as standard in towns like London, Birmingham or Manchester,” he adds.

Both experts agree that community action groups can have a role to play. Farm Watch has one of the highest rates of adoption in Wales where it has chapters in Anglesey, Meirionnydd, West Conwy, Northop, South Denbighshire and Llanfair.  It seems that this might be having an impact on crime with data from insurer NFU Mutual's Rural Crime Survey suggesting that rural crime in Wales is down by 48% from the previous year.

Richard Hoyle, a farm owner based near Brentwood in Essex

Richard Hoyle
Farmer based near Brentwood in Essex,UK

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