Tony Butler, Chief Constable of Gloucestershire, told Britain's first national conference on rural crime prevention: 'The notion that rural counties are safe havens from the ravages of crime is increasingly being challenged by the facts . . . we must redress the resource imbalance.'
While urban crime levels had been reduced, there had been a 'fairly dramatic' increase in rural crime during the last 14 years. Car crime in Gloucestershire had increased fourfold during that period - while the national figure had only doubled. But rural police forces had fewer officers and the gulf between resources and offences would become wider if the trend towards higher rural crime continued.
Mr Butler said Merseyside employed one police officer for every 302 people and had a rate of 101 crimes per 1,000 people, whereas the Gloucestershire force had one officer for every 453 people even though the rate was 113 crimes per 1,000 people. 'If I was to achieve a rate of police officers enjoyed by Merseyside I would be recruiting another 607 officers to this county.'
It was unreasonable to comfort people living in country areas with the idea that they were less likely to be a victim of crime than people in cities. Unless something was done that position could not be sustained for much longer.
He outlined the surge in crime experienced by villages in Leicestershire after the completion of an extention to the M42 three years ago. Ram raids on shops became a new phenomenon and small industrial units were burgled. Many offences were committed by criminals who stole cars in Birmingham before making the 30-minute motorway trip to Leicestershire.
Mr Butler said that besides providing rural police with more resources, it was also vital to enlist help from local communities to tackle the crime problem.