Northern Ireland

New course gives PSNI officers countryside training

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Media captionAbout 100 officers are taking part in the training course, as Conor Macauley reports

It's a problem the PSNI identified some time ago.

What happens when you recruit most of your officers from the towns and cities, and then send them to police the countryside?

How are they expected to cope with rural crime like livestock theft, when as one official from the Department of Agriculture put it, some admit "they don't know one end of a cow from another"?

A new course for around 100 rural officers is designed to address that.

Run in conjunction with the department, it provides a crash course for officers in animal recognition, the tagging system and the identification papers that are meant to accompany livestock on the move.

It's the responsibility of PSNI inspector Keith Jamieson.

Image caption The course aims to help them become more aware of rural issues

"We, as an organisation, recognised that there was a lack of knowledge on the front line, specifically in respect of livestock crime, so the course is to give officers a very basic knowledge of livestock matters to make them more effective on the ground when they're dealing with it," he said.

"We do tend to recruit from towns and cities and the problem with that is officers tend to have minimal knowledge of farming matters, especially livestock."

To address this officers are sent on a two-day course, including a trip to the mart and abattoir where they're schooled in heifers and bullocks, suckler calves and the value of stock.

They watched in the sales ring as a bullock changed hands for £1,200, giving them an appreciation of how lucrative cattle theft can be.

The man whose job it is to show them round the stock yard is DARD official Gareth Bryson. He said the officers coming through the course are "town folk and city folk" who don't have a good knowledge of agriculture.

"It's more or less to give them a better grasp of what exactly they're looking for when they're doing vehicle checkpoints," he said.

Image caption Trips to farmers marts are included in the training

"What to look for, various movement documentation and who to speak to if they want any more information."

Insp Jamieson acknowledged that there's also a question of credibility with the farming community - a sense that when they report a livestock theft, the officers have at least a working knowledge of the animals they're looking for.

It appears to be paying off.

One officer who went through the first course subsequently received information about a sheep theft.

When it was investigated by the PSNI and the Department of Agriculture he and his colleagues recovered the animals, along with a substantial quality of laundered diesel and cannabis.

Image caption A DARD official said the officers coming through the course are "town folk and city folk" who don't have a good knowledge of agriculture.
Image caption Some officers admitted they didn't know "one end of a cow from another".

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