A Federated Farmers survey shows rising rates of rural crime and underlines a strong case for more police resources in rural areas, Feds national board member Richard McIntrye says.
Of more than 1000 farmers who responded to the 2023 Federated Farmers Rural Crime Survey, 67% said they had experienced an incident in the last two years.
That’s a 14% increase from the 2021 survey, and a 26% rise from the first survey in 2016.
While this year’s tally was boosted by the inclusion of a question on illegal street racing, McIntyre says that accounts for only a small part of the increase.
He also notes a marked overlap with the burnouts and dangerous driving of ‘boy racers’ and instances of property damage and theft.
The number of surveyed farmers reporting a single incident of crime (or a suspected incident in the case of hard to trace crimes such as theft of livestock) fell from 28% in 2021 to 19% this year. But those who experienced two or more incidents in the past two years increased from 71% to 81%.
“Alarmingly, the number of farmers who told us they’ve been hit by five or more criminal incidents has nearly doubled to 33%,” McIntyre says.
The most common incident in the 2023 survey is illegal street racing, reported by nearly two-thirds of respondents. Illegal hunting or poaching is next highest at 47%, and property theft at 35%.
The new Government has pledged that no fewer than 500 more frontline cops will be trained over the next two years.
As well as his pitch for a fair share of police resources to come to the provinces, McIntyre has a message to farmers: “Report all crime”.
“That’s how we can put in front of Government an accurate picture of the level of offending rural communities are bearing the brunt of.”
The 2023 survey showed, of those who experienced or suspected a crime, nearly half hadn’t reported the incidents to police, which is higher than in the 2021 survey.
McIntyre says while there isn’t enough data to confirm a trend yet, it seems likely that farming families and businesses suffering multiple incidences of crime are less likely to call police each time.
“We’re not helping ourselves on this front. I know some farmers think to themselves, ‘the police are too stretched to get on top of all the ram raids and other crimes in town, so they won’t be interested in driving 45 minutes to my place’. Or that the piece of property stolen wasn’t valuable enough to bother the police with, or ‘they’re not going to be able to recover it anyway’.
“But when we don’t report rural crime, it lets the Government off the hook in terms of sufficiently resourcing rural police.”
Police have said time and again that reports of stolen property, suspicious activity and vehicles help them build a picture of where and when offenders are active, increasing the chances of an arrest, McIntyre adds.
The Federated Farmers surveys indicate statistics around outcomes are worsening, which may help explain why farmers aren’t reporting crime.
Only about 15% of farmers who experienced crime in the last two years said police investigated and caught the offender, down 12% on the 2021 survey. Meanwhile, a quarter of farmers said police investigated but there was no resolution, which is a drop of 16% on the 2021 figure.
“Whatever the outcome, don’t let it stop you from reporting the crime,” McIntyre says.
“The real value here is getting a full picture of crime rates so we can advocate for more police resources.
“We’re not trying to take resources off urban people – they need more police just as much as we do.”
Poachers are putting lives at risk
A ‘catch and release’ attitude by our courts in relation to illegal hunting and killing of livestock needs to change, Federated Farmers says.
Of more than 1000 farmers responding to the 2023 Federated Farmers Rural Crime Survey, 41% said they’d experienced, or suspected, poaching on their property. That’s about the same rate reported in the 2021 survey.
Reports of livestock stolen or killed (33% and 23% respectively) are also about the same as in 2021.
Federated Farmers rural police spokesperson Richard McIntyre says these are the incidents that really worry him because they involve offenders coming onto farms with firearms.
“When hunters ask the landowner for permission to come on the property, there’s an opportunity to let them know where houses are, where staff are working, where livestock are located.
“But with people hunting illegally, or looking to steal livestock, that whole safety element is out the window. We’ve got people shooting semi-randomly about the place without any understanding of the safety risks.”
For farming families, one of the great attractions of rural life is the ability for children to get outdoors and explore the land.
McIntyre says the potential for illegal hunters changes that mindset.
He acknowledges there are families struggling to put food on the table, but says too many instances of livestock being killed are repeat offenders selling meat down at the pub.
“They might think ‘this farmer has got a thousand sheep, he must we well off, so if we take 10 or 15 it’s not a big deal’.
“But in all reality, those few sheep stolen or killed are actually the farmer’s profit. They often owe a whole lot of money to the bank and they’re operating on fairly small margins.”
McIntyre says poachers and rustlers are hard to catch.
“When they are apprehended, too often the courts go light. We need them to take a far stronger deterrent attitude to this.”