Monday, September 3, 2007

Yorkshire's version of The Minute Men

CRIMINALS, from the counties of Cleveland and Durham are not welcome in North Yorkshire England and will be in for a nasty surprise if they venture into the Yorkshire Dales without good cause.

The good folk of Richmondshire have set up a “Volunteer Border Watch scheme ” covering the rural police beats of, Gilling, Eppleby, Barton and Middleton Tyas.

The volunteers, mount mobile observation patrols to observe strangers in and around the countryside adjacent to the A66 boundary road, separating North Yorkshire and County Durham, covering hundreds of square miles.

High profile policing and CCTV surveillance in the English towns of Bishop Auckland, Darlington and Middlesbrough have tempted criminals to try their luck in the North Yorkshire countryside.

The border watch volunteers, acting as the eyes and ears of the police were set up in 2005, to combat increased thefts from garages, garden sheds and farm buildings.

The border watch scheme was set up by the North Yorkshire Police under the Richmondshire Community Safety Partnership. The police support and oversee the scheme, but insist they are independent volunteer organizations.

The police called on the community to help them cover the large area, north of the Richmond district and “tip the scales in favour of law enforcement, against the villains”, the police recruitment notice said.

A secret army of unpaid volunteers, patrol the countryside from early evening until the early hours of the morning every day. The volunteers, observe, note and report any suspicious activity or anything which looks out of place on their watch. Vans and cars with trailers attract particular attention from the border watch units.

One volunteer remarked, “Criminals have got cute, they often bring dogs with them to give the impression they just innocently poaching rabbits, whilst masking their true intentions. But we are wise to that ruse”

One farming member of the Gilling West unit said, “It's my way of giving something back to the community. The police cannot be expected to be in every part of the dale, day and night. When you have been a victim of crime and lost tools and equipment or life-stock, this is one way you can make a real difference”

Volunteers, travel in pairs and share the responsibility for driving and taking notes. They log on with the police at the start of their shift and one unit is even equipped with a set of ex-military, night vision sights

All suspicious activity is noted and reported, through a dedicated link to the police control room. The intelligence gathered by the border watch volunteers is collated and prioritized by the police.

Urgent incidents attract an immediate police response. In other less urgent circumstances the information supplied by the volunteers, will trigger follow up inquiries or filed to build up a bigger intelligence picture, linking a number of suspicious activities. The owner of a vehicle spotted late at night by the border watch will attract police inquiries.

One volunteer said, “This alerts urban car drivers we are watching them, which works both as a warning and a deterrent”

A local businessman and a Gilling West volunteer said, “We have made a real difference and feel very proud of our small contribution in helping make our countryside safer”. However on one occasion at about 3 in the morning, we reported the number plate and location of a car which had been spotted, being driven very slowly and erratically. Suddenly the driver pulled his car into a hidden lay-by near the A66, and turned off his lights. The police were on the scene within minutes of it being reported and soon discovered, it was a Frenchman who had got himself lost. He was on his way to the annual French market in Richmond, with a car full of fresh bread.”

New volunteer recruits to border watch receive no training but are issued with guidance notes from the police. They are advised to remain anonymous for security reasons and instructed by the police to act at all times, as passive observers only.

Border Watch members, although they use their own private vehicles during patrols, cannot reclaim fuel, insurance or wear and tear expenses, for what is in effect, front-line police surveillance.

PC John Wilbor, the North Yorkshire Police liaison officer for the border watch scheme said, “The volunteers provide a valuable community service. Their intelligence reports have led to a number of arrests and have deterred crime in rural North Yorkshire” In the first six months of border watch, reported crime in the rural areas was down. We are always recruiting new volunteers and if anyone wishes to learn more or join one of our units, they can get further information by calling me on, 0845 60 60 247.

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