Victim Experiences of the Police
• Interpretations of police performance were incredibly varied across the country. However, across all force areas, there was a general perception that the policing of rural communities is neither properly resourced nor prioritised.
• Within particular areas, respondents were keen to highlight the exemplary policing practice they had experienced. These areas tended to have well-established rural policing teams with specific, named officers as points of contact for rural communities. They also tended to have rural-watch WhatsApp groups with police involvement. Crucially, these WhatsApp groups were used not only to share information and facilitate more effective responses to rural crime, but also to communicate where the police had been successful in their operations.
• Despite the significant emotional and psychological impacts reported by victims, respondents were almost universally incredulous at being offered victim support by the police which they perceived to be an inappropriate response to acquisitive crime. Rather, respondents were keen for the police to demonstrate their ability and willingness to investigate criminal incidents.
• There was a general perception that insufficient effort was made to secure evidence and investigate thefts. In particular, the perception that the police were unconcerned with attending the scene to collect forensic evidence was a source of significant dissatisfaction among crime victims. Examples were also offered where CCTV evidence had not been collected by police. Where people had such experiences, there was a generally held belief that the police perceived their role as merely providing a crime number in order to facilitate the submission of an insurance claim.
• A significant number of victims and rural residents also reported concerns that police were sometimes unwilling to recover vehicles in cases where tracking data was able to indicate their location, or where their presence on online sales platforms had been identified. In discussions around these events, victims offered three main explanations for the police’s failure to recover vehicles. In the first instance, they perceived a combination of limited police resources and a failure to prioritise rural and acquisitive crimes to play a role in preventing police from pursuing intelligence leads. In a smaller number of interviews, respondents had located their machinery on online sales platforms and were advised by officers that the police would not be able to investigate or contact sellers, nor recover vehicles. Instead, victims were instructed to contact sellers and to arrange to meet the sellers before the police could intervene. Whilst several victims had done so, others were too frightened to approach those selling vehicles for fear of reprisals. This latter group spoke of a sense of extreme vulnerability that related to the fact that perpetrators, who knew where they lived, might identify them and engage in retributive acts following police intervention. Finally, a particular concern appeared to exist around the police’s willingness to intervene where suspects were identified as being drawn from GRT communities. Among many respondents, there was a perception that the police were often unwilling to enter sites in order to recover stolen goods.
• Where the geographical features of a force area incorporate substantial proportions of rural areas, forces should seek to establish dedicated rural policing resources which ought to include the provision of a named contact for rural communities.
• Where possible, local policing teams ought to participate in community rural watch schemes both as a means to improve police-community relations but also to facilitate the flow of intelligence.
• The limitations around police resources notwithstanding, there appears to be significant scope to improve the speed with which police attend the properties of those who have been victimised and to engage in more thorough collection of evidence.
Transportation and Disposal Routes
• The findings of the study are able to offer very limited insight into the techniques used by perpetrators to transport and dispose of stolen goods, though again this element of the research might be developed more fully in the future.
• For the most part, respondents existed in social and professional networks which allowed them access to both the skills and equipment to facilitate theft. Many of the perpetrators had experience of working in areas such as groundworks, construction, waste disposal, transportation and agricultural work meaning that they had a sound working knowledge of machinery and had access to vehicles used to transport stolen goods. Moreover, the networks in which they were embedded, were made up of people who routinely operated in the liminal space between licit and illicit economic activity and thus provided a rich web of relationships which could be called upon in order to transport and sell machinery. Thus, whilst some people had access to vans and lorries as part of their work which they used to transport vehicles, others merely called in favours or paid acquaintances for access to their vehicles. These third parties were described as being unconnected to thefts and being fundamentally disinterested in, unconcerned by, the nature of what the respondents asked of them. They were described as merely asking no questions in exchange for a fee, with these jobs simply representing an extension of their normal practice of operating in the grey and black economies. Thus, sometimes acquaintances would be called upon on an ad hoc basis to provide a vehicle to transport vehicles from where they had been secreted. In other examples, more long-term relationships existed whereby those involved in the transportation of grain, for example, would regularly transport vehicles across the country to places where dealers or other recipients were located.
• The same networks also offered perpetrators opportunities to sell their goods, as they, or their associates, often required small plant for work, or quads/ ATVs and bikes for recreational purposes. This method of disposing of property was reported fairly infrequently, but it was clear from the data that informal networks exist in which both vendors and recipients of stolen vehicles exist organically meaning that vehicles can be sold without contact with formal businesses or sales platforms. Often, when this took place, WhatsApp, SnapChat and Facebook Messenger were used to identify purchasers and arrange sales.
• A significant number of perpetrators were embedded in a network of unscrupulous machinery dealers who operated on or beyond the margins the legality. Established relationships meant that machinery could be sold on very quickly, or in some cases, sales could be arranged prior to the theft in order to be sold on or stripped down for parts.
• The recent proliferation of online marketplaces furnished perpetrators with ample opportunity to sell stolen goods directly. Among the respondents there was a clear preference towards platforms such as Facebook Marketplace and Ebay but they also used SnapChat and Facebook (not Marketplace) to move goods.
• Beyond these more formal sales channels, some offenders discussed the way that they had established contacts within the local community to whom they were almost always able to sell their goods. Two respondents discussed their links to members of their local (settled) GRT community among whom there was a strong market for machinery. Established relationships with these individuals meant that machinery and small plant could be moved on very easily and it was their understanding that they were sold on via informal networks. Their understanding of the destination of the vehicles they sold was extremely limited though one believed that some were moved abroad, but this remained unsubstantiated.
• The operations of two respondents, however, had confirmed international links and both were reliant on relationships with overseas haulage companies to move machinery out of the country. Both had established contacts abroad (one in Eastern Europe and one in the Middle East) to whom they sent vehicles. The haulage companies, however, were registered in different countries to those for which vehicles were destined.
• On account of the regularity with which offenders sought to dispose of goods via online sales platforms such as E-Bay and Facebook, exploration of potential mechanisms by which the number of stolen goods appearing on the platforms can be reduced must constitute a priority. Some very positive work in this vein is already being pursued by both NaVCIS and a current Home Office Working Group into which the current research feeds. However, further work around the ultimate destination of products is also needed in order to address the problem from a demand-led perspective. Crucially, proactive policing of stolen GPS dome systems recently carried out by NaVCIS indicates that whilst the theft and distribution networks for stolen goods are international in nature, often those buying the products online are located within the UK. Therefore, significant work needs to be done around educating those who buy second-hand plant and agricultural equipment with a view to influencing their decision-making. In the first instance, approaches which seek to empower consumers with the ability to make appropriate checks on the provenance of goods may mean that the demand for stolen goods can be reduced by taking simple steps towards the democratisation of information. The exploration of technological innovations which may facilitate this remains part of the scope of the Home Office working group mentioned above, but wider consideration of how bodies such as the NFU, CLA, AEA, CEA, etc. may also assist in the provision of public information campaigns would also be of benefit. Where approaches which focus on empowerment remain ineffective, the exploration of more coercive attempts to extinguish demand through the seizure of stolen goods may be explored by national policing teams such as NaVCIS and OPAL.
• In the first instance, the realities of agricultural insurance were identified as being problematic by research participants including police, manufacturers, those working in rural interest organisations, in addition to victims themselves. Among a very broad range of respondents there was a strong perception that the details of insurance policies failed to incentivise improvements to security as they neglected to offer meaningful discounts in exchange for the adoption measures such as the use of tracking systems on machinery. This was a source of significant frustration for policy holders and for those attempting to effect behavioural change among machine owners.
• Throughout the research, a more fundamental and intractable issue was also identified in relation to the under-writing of agricultural insurance policies whereby insurers were identified as offering pay-outs for machinery which had keys left in them. Again, this issue was raised by a range of stakeholders including police, victims, those working in rural-interest organisations, in addition to those working in the manufacture and sale of machinery. Among these stakeholders, there was a belief that insurance pay-out conditions had a significant deregulatory effect on the conduct of machinery vehicle owners who, once again, were offered little incentive to adopt better security practices. During interview, many victims were very open about the way they had been remiss in securing their machinery and were accepting of the role played by their behaviour in facilitating theft. Thus, victims reported having left tractors with GPS systems unattended in positions visible from roads overnight, leaving machinery out overnight and leaving keys in vehicles. In relation to the latter, farmers reported that their willingness to leave keys in vehicles related to the unique dynamics of the farming industry and their failure to consider that they might be victimised, but many suggested that they no longer continued this practice following their victimisation. When respondents stated that they continued to leave keys in machinery despite having experienced theft, they were open about the way in which they were confident that their vehicle would be replaced quickly in the event of a theft and that this was enough to discourage them from being inconvenienced by having to remove keys. It must be stated that those in the latter group were exclusively made-up of those who had had quad bikes stolen rather than larger machinery. Their accounts, therefore, were clearly indicative of the potential for the reform of policy conditions to contribute to better security practices in the industry. Moreover, research data suggests that significant support for reform might also be located among members of the farming community who were unreservedly positive about the service they received from their insurers but were also simultaneously cognisant of the way in which pay-out conditions contributed to cultures of irresponsibility and rising insurance costs. Discussion, of this issue with those working in the sales, manufacturing and insurance industries underscored both the difficulty and importance of effecting change in this area. The potential reform of pay-out conditions was considered in the insurance industry as being of enormous commercial consequence on account of its potential to alter current market-place dynamics and, for this reason, it was approached with extreme trepidation. However, the amendment of policy conditions was perceived by many working in the manufacturing industry as a pre-requisite for their participation in processes of negotiation and reform to reduce thefts by making improvements to machine security in particular areas of the agricultural vehicle market.
• Urgent consideration of the ways in which insurance companies can incentivise better security practices among policy holders is required. In the first instance, this requires reforms to policy conditions so that meaningful discounts are offered in return for the adoption of anti-theft measures such as trackers, immobilisers or appropriate situational crime prevention measures.
• Beyond this, the issue of policy under-writing where customers fail to remove keys from vehicles needs to be examined. The introduction of financial penalties for the lax security practices which exist within parts of the farming and construction industries have great potential to generate positive cultural change. Recognising the potential impact on the commercial interests of insurance companies, steps towards the adoption of these reforms ought to incorporate the industry as a whole in order to ensure equity among competitors.
• The issue of vehicle security was also identified as playing a key role in determining the dynamics of machinery thefts. Historically, the inadequacy of security features of plant and agricultural vehicles has played a significant role in the facilitation of theft. The absence of immobilising technology and the use of universal keys, for example, have meant that often theft requires very little skill or effort on the part of offenders. However, significant improvements have been made in many areas of the market including the fitting of RF ID keys to most tractors and digital keys to some plant equipment, such as JCB machines. Mirroring the effects of improvements made to car security, the introduction of this technology has had an incredibly positive effect on reducing rates of theft among newer machines. However, the adoption of these forms of anti-theft technology has been far from universal and huge swathes of the plant and agricultural vehicle markets remain unreformed. Inevitably, this means that particular vehicles remain much more accessible to thieves.
• Among agricultural vehicles, one area of the market lags very conspicuously behind others in the extent to which improvements to machine security have been adopted, namely ATVs and quads. Here, whilst companies such as Can-Am have introduced chipped keys, other manufacturers have failed to introduce this technology to their products meaning that they can be stolen with great ease and speed. Moreover, significant resistance appears to exist among manufacturers towards adopting the modification to their machines that would bring them in line with the rest of the sector. During the research, these issues were discussed at length with those working across the sectors of machinery manufacture, sales and insurance in order to explore the barriers to achieving change.
• One of the arguments against moving towards factory-fitted immobilisation is that rates of theft in Britain far outstrip those in other countries and thus, as manufacturing processes service global demand, there simply isn’t the wider demand for increased security to justify alterations to manufacturing processes. However, as part of the research, figures from a number of other countries were obtained which call into question manufacturers’ arguments around British exceptionalism in relation to thefts. Instead, these figures demonstrate that countries including New Zealand, the US, Sweden, Canada, France, Finland and Ireland all have rates of theft higher than the UK when considered in relation to their population size. The global continuity of the problem of ATV theft indicates that any modifications to improve the security of bikes at the point of manufacture have the potential to contribute to the amelioration of crime problems beyond the borders of the UK.
• A second line of argument against making amendments to manufacturing processes related to the significant research and development investment necessary to effect change. However, the fact that remains that many of the leading manufacturers already own and use this technology on vehicles such as their road bikes, though this is not true of all companies as motorbikes produced by Suzuki, for example, do not currently come with immobilising technology.
• Increases to vehicle costs were portrayed as the inevitable outcome of introducing security features at the point of manufacture and the issue of consumer sovereignty was regularly raised as an argument against pursuing change which would result in the raising the cost of machinery. Rather, the provision of after-sales security in the form of trackers and plug-and-play-immobilisation was considered preferable by manufacturers on account of the lower costs associated with its installation and the fact that consumers could freely elect to participate. To this end, some ATV manufacturers have introduced schemes to incentivise purchases of post-sale security devices whereby trackers and immobilisers are provided at a reduced cost, should the consumer cover the fitting fee and subsequent monthly subscription payments. However, there was also suggestion made that there was very little to incentivise dealers to encourage take-up as they did not stand to derive any profit from the current arrangements. During interview, some manufacturers alluded to the fact that the take-up rate for these products remains intractably low. Data from interviews with victims, farmers and rural residents offers insight into why this may be the case as respondents often expressed a desire to avoid contracts which required monthly subscription payments. Beyond a general dislike of regular payments, respondents found it hard to justify these ongoing costs when they knew that vehicles were likely to be replaced swiftly in the event of a theft. Thus, contrary to manufacturers’ arguments around the need to protect consumer sovereignty, evidence indicates that consumers will not routinely elect to participate in additional schemes to improve ATV security, particularly where these measures involve ongoing subscription fees. Moreover, the research indicates that significant appetite for change exists within the farming community regarding improvements to bike security. The inadequacy of farming vehicle security was a recurring issue in interviews with victims and rural residents, as respondents regularly sought to raise the issue. Victims were incredulous at the way exceptionally poor security measures existed as standard in their sector. Improvements made to tractor security were often cited as an example that ought to be applied within the context of quad bikes.
• Nevertheless, the general move throughout the industry towards the greater adoption of tracking systems must be welcomed as a positive step, though given offenders’ increasing capabilities in overcoming this technology, it cannot be considered a panacea to the problem of theft. There was a general acceptance of this fact among respondents who identified that as the industry as a whole moved towards the standardised use of trackers, the potential for their efficacy to be undermined was very significant as thieves would become increasingly aware of the need to locate and disable devices as a routine part of their offending.
• Other positive steps have been taken by manufacturers towards improving the recovery rates of stolen vehicles and one of the main ways this had been achieved was through participation in vehicle marking schemes such as Cesar/ DATATAG. Again, inclusion in these marking and registration schemes was not universal and some regression has taken place in recent years whereby some manufacturers have withdrawn from the scheme. Rather encouragingly, however, some companies such as Suzuki have attempted to incentivise more thorough registration practices among dealers by withholding funds until the process is complete. The need for more stringent registration requirements is an extremely important consideration when attempting to address problems around the recovery of vehicles, and the standardisation of registration procedures which might be mandated at the point of sale, is one means of addressing this.
• Given the inconsistent approach to machine security throughout the plant and agricultural vehicle industry, a full review of areas of the market in which improvements are needed is required. Encouragement towards the standardisation of better security practices needs to take place. However, manufacturers were unanimous about the fact that improvements to machine security do not serve to increase the desirability of vehicles, meaning that there is very little commercial incentive to engage with processes of reform. Therefore, future negotiations need to place emphasis on the corporate social responsibilities of companies in order that material rewards for engagement can be introduced to manufacturers.
• The introduction of standardised and mandatory registration and marking schemes would be of enormous benefit to the identification and recovery of stolen vehicles. Given the current development of technology to assist in the police’s identification of stolen goods, the universal requirement to register machinery would greatly assist in establishing the efficacy of these measures.
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