All in a day’s work: The rural crime inspector *H&H Plus*

  • Policeman Dave Smith on distinguishing between rumours and intelligence, and why he’ll probably never ride a horse

    I’m not horsey at all, although my wife rides, but I am good at reducing crime, partnership working and sharing best practice. I live in a rural location, appreciate the lifestyle and understand the needs and concerns of rural communities.

    Historically, national police haven’t made rural crime a priority. But in 2018, the National Police Chiefs’ Council launched the National Wildlife Crime and Rural Affairs portfolio, in which equine related crime was one of the priorities.

    They asked what we were doing to address equine and rural crime, and it was recognised what we were doing in Kent was the most effective – for example, in 2015-2016 we halved reports of horses dumped to die. We’ve had numerous successes in neglect cases with the RSPCA, too.

    A big thing at the moment is “citizens in policing”, which is people getting involved voluntarily. I have mounted volunteers – members of the public who don’t have powers or warrant cards but they’re the eyes and ears, with reflectives and radios, out and about, in contact with a supervisor. They can be a great source of intelligence and a visual deterrent.

    As a child, I wanted to play football for Liverpool. My father and brother were in the police and I was determined not to do the same. Instead, I joined a bank and did 10 years in customer service. Then I realised I couldn’t support a family, and thought, “What am I good at?” I took to it like a duck to water; maybe it’s in the blood.

    Kent Police Rural Task Force won a national NFU Mutual award, Country Crime Fighters, in 2014, which was a proud moment. Other highlights of the job include motivating the team, so they get results when I’m not there.

    My advice to anyone wanting to do the job would be to understand the impact organised crime has on vulnerable, rural communities, to build trust and confidence with them, and deliver what you say you will.

    Some people see horses that appear to be neglected and think by lobbying authorities or charities, things will get done. They may be well-meaning, but dealing with 20 requests for information, many identical, from different but associated people is often counter-productive, and takes up time that could be better spent in reducing equine crime and promoting welfare.

    Many people assume they know the full facts but we alone can’t take horses away if there’s a neglect issue; that has to come from a vet and is predominantly an RSPCA-led investigation when they have been informed. It’s a minefield and while people are putting names and their own opinions out on social media, they could be undermining our work.

    It can be frustrating when our time’s diverted this way; a whisper goes around and the equestrian community can get a bit twitchy, whether it’s, “I’ve heard this is happening,” or that a plait in a horse’s mane means it’s going to be stolen.

    When people hear about my job, they often say: “What do you know about horses?” They think I have to be an expert but it’s not about knowing how to ride or keep horses, it’s the crime element – and I am an expert in reducing equine crime in partnership with others. And no, ever since I was bitten by a horse as a lad I’ve thought I’m probably never going to get on one.

    Ref Horse & Hound; 12 March 2020