A burglary can leave long-lasting effects on victims who are often robbed of their livelihood or suffer the loss of momentous items.
And our rural communities are the most vulnerable – as heartless thieves continue to target farms and isolated streets.
There were a staggering 7,700 reported burglaries throughout Sussex, from October 2018, to September 2019, Sussex Police said.
The force said it had made the crime a priority by introducing dedicated rural crime Police and Community Support Officers (PCSOs), who will be patrolling potential hot-spots in the countryside.
The new rural crime team will use their time to engage with residents, police said, offering advice and reassurance, while providing a high-visibility deterrent to criminals.
This newspaper joined Sussex Police and Crime Commissioner Katy Bourne and Sussex Police Deputy Chief Constable Jo Shiner on a targeted rural crime hi-visibility patrol for the first time in Hartfield, East Sussex.
The pair were joined by PCs and a member of the new team of dedicated rural PCSOs as they toured rural areas in Sussex in a mobile police van as part of Operation Magpie – a week-long burglary campaign.
Volunteer Police Cadets (VPC) also took a day out of their half term to go door-to-door handing out burglary prevention leaflets.
“Having been a victim of burglary, I know what impact it has. This is a real priority for Sussex Police,” said DCC Jo Shiner.
“We are really good at preventing burglaries in Sussex, but our rural communities are the hardest to prevent.”
Mrs Bourne said: “Burglary is the one that the public get most upset about.
“Operation Magpie aims to tell everybody about burglary and about keeping your lights on as the nights get darker.
“We have got a small team across Sussex now whose only job is to deal with rural crime for our rural communities so that people don’t feel that they’re really isolated and it helps with anybody who is feeling slightly vulnerable as well.”
Detective Chief Inspector Alasdair Henry, Sussex Police burglary prevention lead, said the Operation Magpie campaign aimed to prevent burglaries and reassure communities that police were doing the best they can to investigate them.
He added: “It is all about keeping our communities safe. Burglary is an abhorrent crime that leaves long-lasting effects on victims because their livelihoods are on the back of these burglaries.”
The campaign has been well received by the community, this newspaper was told, with many residents saying they are pleased to see police officers on the beat.
While out on patrol, we visited Ashdown Forest in East Sussex which fell victim to a burglary in January this year.
Sergeant Tom Carter, Sussex Police operational lead for Wildlife, Heritage and Environmental Crime, said: “We are here at Ashdown Forest talking about burglary prevention. Unfortunately the forest centre here has been a victim of burglary recently.
“We are here doing some basic principles around property crime prevention and property marking, talking about how to secure property, how to mark property so that it becomes identifiable and also how to use signs and visual deterrence to deter criminals from targeting the site.”
Leaving a light on when you go out when it is dark and using security lighting are some of the simple principles that can prevent your house or business from being burgled, Mr Carter said.
“It is passing that prevention message so that, actually, we can reduce burglaries and stop them before they happen rather than having to respond to them after everyone has already lost their stuff,” he commented.
“The response has been extremely positive. The public have mentioned they really like seeing us out in the rural communities which we’re hoping to do more, especially with the change in how we deploy our PCSOs into communities, and also with us bringing in people like Olivia, our rural crime PCSO, who are going to work with rural communities on problem solving and crime prevention.”
At Ashdown Forest, Mr Carter demonstrated property marking using a DNA marking kit. The kit, given to victims of crime, contains a bottle of fluid which can be painted on vulnerable equipment and if the equipment is to ever be stolen, police can identify the item with a unique DNA signature on a victim database. One pack can mark 50 items of kit.
Olivia Clinton, who has the local Lewes, Wealden and Eastbourne district as a Rural Crime PCSO, said: “The rural communities tend to be a bit more vulnerable to incidents like this. As they are a bit more remote and isolated, there are less eyewitnesses in these rural communities which means they can be more vulnerable to crimes like this so that’s why it is important for us to be here and do property marking such as this today.”
Kirsty Dirs, clerk to the board of conservators for Ashdown Forest, said she was pleased to see police on site.
“The police have massively supported us,” she said.
“What happened in January was a very malicious incident. Nothing was stolen but the place was smashed up and it meant we couldn’t get food to our livestock. This new scheme on rural crime is fantastic, more police presence is needed in this area.”
Michael Payne, an Ashdown Forest ranger, said the burglary in January restricted the team from working properly for at least a month.
“We were trying to get all of our fleet back on the road and the knock on effect that has for the rest of the year once your workload gets behind, you can’t catch up, it just means things don’t happen,” he commented.
“It was really disruptive and I think the staff here, we all take great pride in the work we are doing, so it can almost feel quite personal when someone attacks our workplace.”
The 35-year-old said burglaries in rural areas were a common occurrence because it is ‘too easy for them’.
“It’s hard for the police to be in the right place at the right time covering such large areas. And it’s very hard for the owners of the property that’s been damaged or stolen to protect against it further than they are already,” he said.
“Anything that can be done to help reduce rural crime and the problems that we are facing is really welcomed. And hopefully more events like today could help push awareness so people protect themselves more so there’s less vulnerable areas which make it a less lucrative business for somebody to be breaking in to rural areas, so possibly they won’t do it anymore.”
Sussex Police would be ‘lost without its cadets’, said DCC Jo Shiner.
“They get as much out of it as we do. I am really grateful to these who have given up their time to help.”
Nathan Dunbar, 17, who lives in Polegate, said people were pleased to see them handing out burglary prevention leaflets.
“I think it is good to put police in rural communities,” he added.
Zachary Hayns, 17, said when going door-to-door in the village people were surprised that burglaries had taken place in the village.
“The police do such a good job that it is not noticeable,” said Zachary, adding: “It shows people feel safe.”
Jessica Rose, 16, from Hailsham, said she felt like she was doing something ‘good’. “When you see people happy to see us, it is nice,” she commented.
Connor Jenkins, 17, from Polegate said he had gained important life skills through the cadet programme and had made friends.
The volunteer cadet corp (VCC) is a non-competitive programme of practical and police related activities for cadets upholding the values and standards of Sussex Police.
The programme is primarily a youth inclusion and engagement scheme designed to support the personal and social development of cadets aged 13 to 18 years of age.
This is regardless of gender, background, disability, sexual orientation or ability and provides the opportunity for young people to engage with Sussex Police.