Suspicious activity Tell police immediately, rural folk urged

By Roger Moroney roger.moroney@hbtoday.co.nz


Once upon a time there was town and there was country.

Towns and cities and farms and orchards and great expanses of open land in between.

That is still the case, but over the past 25 years there has been something of a fusion between town and country in many areas. Hawke's Bay is one of them.

Today there are swathes of land dubbed "semi-rural" or "lifestyle blocks".

Where the buzz of the city is within easy reach, while the serenity and tranquillity of the countryside can be enjoyed at the end of the day.

And security? Used to also be a time when rural folk could leave the doors unlocked and be comfortable that the generators and tools and cans of diesel fuel in the storage sheds would be just fine.

In the past few years, thefts of diesel have slowly risen up the burglary hit list, as rural areas have come under the burglar's spotlight.

The rising price of the fuel had led to the growth of a black market for diesel, and in the spring of 2010 there was a string of thefts reported from farms and orchards.

The thieves weren't going after a few litres, but hundreds as they targeted bulk storage tanks.

Farm motorcycles and four-wheel bikes have also been a tasty target - easily wheeled away to a nearby vehicle. They are sought-after commodities for burglars who head for the open fields to ply their trade, but as more people have moved into lifestyle and semi-rural areas, the range of pickings for burglars has expanded.

Taradale-based Hawke's Bay rural police officer Senior Constable Pete Gimblett has worked his extensive "patch" which takes in Puketapu, Rissington, Puketitiri and Patoka, for the past four years.

Even in that time he has seen changes.

In terms of burglaries, per capita of population, rural "burgs" would appear to have the edge.

Altogether, 71 break-ins of rural properties were reported in his patch last year, while in the built-up area of Taradale into Greenmeadows there were 82.

"Going on population, you would have to look at rural burglaries being higher," Mr Gimblett said.

He believed the main motivator for burglars was the relative isolation, which gave them more opportunities.

"I would suggest that they think their chances of being caught out there are lower."

He said while the statistics were clear, and there had been publicity about rural burglaries, getting some in the rural community to accept that "burglar Bill" did roam the countryside was not easy.

A lingering perception was still out, there that there was no urgent need to lock everything up.

"It has been a challenge to get the full security message across," Mr Gimblett said.

The main ingredient to getting the message through had, unfortunately, been the clear rise in criminal activity in country areas which even the diehard "she'll be right" fraternity had begun to recognise.

Mr Gimblett said rural communities did have a unofficial "neighbourhood watch" type scheme going - through knowing the movements of their neighbours and what vehicles they used.

The appearance of a strange vehicle, with unknown faces inside, down a small country road would ring alarm bells ... most times.

It was the reporting of such sightings that needed more attention.

Just last week he was called by a local resident about the sighting of a car being driven suspiciously through the Puketitiri area.

But he received the call 30 minutes after the vehicle had been spotted.

"The number one thing here is call us straight away. Let us check it out ... because nine times out of 10 if it looks dodgy it probably is dodgy."

He had learned of incidents occurring after which witnesses or theft victims had decided to wait until the next morning, or on the Monday if it took place during the weekend, to report.

"We are 24-7 - call us," Mr Gimblett said.

As he pointed out, catching one burglar inevitably ended up solving multiple incidents.

One notable case was a rural worker becoming suspicious about two men driving along Puketitiri Rd. The worker called Mr Gimblett straight away and the officer was able to get into the area quickly and came across the pair. They made a driving dash for it but cordons had been set up and they were nabbed. As a result, police recovered a generator, electrical gear and saddles - and solved four burglaries.

In April there were 12 incidents reported in the greater Waiohiki region, and across Meeanee and Puketapu there were six.

"Very likely to be the same people active in the area."

Burglars were constantly on the prowl for new pickings.

Mr Gimblett said while most rural folk were on the look-out, there was still a need to get the message across to the newcomers - the lifestylers who moved to semi-rural and rural areas for privacy, and as such effectively kept to themselves.

"They need to get to know their neighbours."

Fighting rural crime was down to those communities as they were the eyes and ears of the police.

"Burglary is a terrible crime. Someone getting into your house or your property and going through it. Your house is your castle," Mr Gimblett said.

"If you see or hear something that is not right, call it in - straight away. It is not someone else's problem, it is everybody's."

As the sign on the wall of his office at the Taradale Police Station declares - "Shut the Gate on Rural Crime".


BURGLARY BATTLE LINES


Fit locks to gates and all sheds;

Let the neighbours know if you are going to be away;

Put in security sensor lights - burglars do not like being lit up;

See something suspicious - call it in straight away;

Take registration numbers - let the police check them out.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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