Vigilante villagers fed up with local police are 'risking their own safety'

Locals in the villages around the New Forest National Park have set up groups to tackle crime following what they claim is chronic underpolicing

High Street, Lyndhurst, Hampshire, England, United Kingdom
Shop owners and locals say police are not helping to solve crime in Lyndhurst, Hampshire (Alamy)

Vigilantes have been warned they are putting their safety at risk by attempting to tackle crime and plug gaps in local policing.

Locals in the villages around the New Forest National Park have set up groups to tackle crime following what they claim is chronic underpolicing as hundreds of burglaries in the area remain unsolved.

But former police officer Ruth Halkon, who is also a researcher for the Police Foundation independent think tank, told Yahoo News that despite police suffering a real-terms funding cut of 20% since 2010, the public should not take matters into their own hands.

"Speaking as a former police office myself, obviously the police are the best people to investigate crimes - they've got the training and there a basic safety issue; you don't know whether the person you have apprehended for stealing antique vases could also be involved in a criminal gang, could have a weapon.

"So from a public safety angle it's not good at all. it's putting yourself and your community at risk and also if things aren't being reported, then the police don't know whether it's an issue."

'The pressure got to her'

Residents are using groups on Facebook and WhatsApp to coordinate their efforts to catch criminals in the act and attempt to solve some of the thefts and burglaries themselves, with one shopowner commenting that pressure from a Facebook group prompted a thief to return goods to her store.

"It was the pressure that got to her," antique shop owner Janine Stone told the Daily Mail. "Her friend saw the photo and told her that her image was all over social media, and said she should do the right thing."

Nextdoor App icon. Mobile phone with Nextdoor Local Neighborhood application
Apps like Nextdoor have made it easier for locals to communicate about crime. (PA)

Halkon explained that instances of vigilantism had been fuelled by social media groups, where people can share and publicise instances of crime in their local area, as well as encourage others to be on the lookout for certain suspects.

"It's being facilitated by the rise of local facebooks groups and things like the nextdoor app," she said. "People message and it can be basic stuff like 'the street light is out of order' or 'this guy approached our children in the park'... this has always happened but the internet has made it a lot easer to do."

In New Forest villages Lyndhurst and Minstead, unsolved burglaries are rife and local shopkeepers and residents have described a feeling that the police have not been involved enough in solving crime - calling for more officers on the beat.

"The actual fact of having someone on patrol does have an impact on public confidence if they think there's someone they know out on the streets who has their back, but it doesn't have that much of an impact on crime unless it's targeted - if you have particular hotspots where crime is likely to happen it does have an impact," Halkon said.

Glasgow, Scotland - A rear view of two police officers as they walk on Argyll street in Glasgow's city centre.
While police numbers have increased, there has been a far smaller increase in officers on the beat. (Getty)

Police in crisis

According to the House of Commons Library, there were 17,303 police officers in England and Wales were assigned to neighbourhood policing teams last year. And while the number of officers in the force grew by 16% between 2018-2022, the number of officers in neighbourhood policing teams has grown just 5% during the same period.

The village vigilantes' cause comes as the home secretary pledged to have police investigate every single theft, also shoring up the government's commitment to ensure police attend every burglary.

"The police have made progress in preventing crime across the country with neighbourhood offences like burglary, robbery and vehicle theft down by 51% since 2010," Braverman said.

Britain's Home Secretary Suella Braverman leaves after attending a cabinet meeting at Downing Street in London, Tuesday, Sept. 5, 2023. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)
Home Secretary Suella Braverman says all theft should be taken seriously. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)

"Despite this success, since I became home secretary I've heard too many accounts from victims where police simply haven't acted on helpful leads because crimes such as phone and car thefts are seen as less important - that's unacceptable. It has damaged people's confidence in policing."

"Criminals must have no place to hide. The police's commitment today is a huge step forward towards delivering the victim-focused, common-sense policing the public deserve."

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