VIDEO: Horsham district commander ‘geared up’ for policing challenges afoot in 2014/15

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Horsham police say they are ‘geared up’ and ready for the year ahead after a ‘challenging’ 2013/14.

Chief inspector Howard Hodges, Horsham district commander, said the policing year - which ran from April 1 2013 to March 12 2014 - saw a number of serious incidents on our roads and a demand on resource around anti-fracking protests in Balcombe.

JPCT 101212 Chief Inspector for Horsham Howard Hodges. Photo by Derek Martin ENGSUS00120121012130522

JPCT 101212 Chief Inspector for Horsham Howard Hodges. Photo by Derek Martin ENGSUS00120121012130522

One of the most notable trends over last year was a small increase in what is categorised as violent crime.

There were seven more recorded incidents defined as violent offences over 2013/14 compared to the previous year.

The force recorded a total of 20 assaults on police officers.

“That’s quite a significant increase on the previous year,” explained CI Hodges during an exclusive interview with the County Times.

He said assaults on officers is ‘obviously something concerning’ and will be investigated.

Speaking of violent crime in general he stressed: “Very little violent crime is serious violent crime - the majority are low-level assaults, and on most occasions the person is known to the victim.”

Burglaries continue to be another priority of police focus.

Last year officers recorded 245 incidents of burglaries - a rise of just three on the previous year.

CI Hodges said the force has made a number of significant arrests in relation to these offences in the past six months.

He noted a drop in the number of distraction burglaries and break-ins to outbuildings and shops.

He explained the type of burglary has shifted recently, with criminals now targeting Horsham town centre for drug-related reasons.

The chief inspector said: “Something changed over the past year.

“Historically the majority of our burglaries occurred in the rural southern half of our district and we have seen a change this year where there’s been a significant decrease in the number of burglaries in the southern part and an increase in Horsham town centre.

“Some of the offenders that we have arrested, it has been to do with addiction issues relating to drugs and that need to take property and convert it quickly into cash.”

On average 20 homes will be burgled in the district every month - this has been fairly consistent over the past four years.

Police say they are not complacent and are keen to see this number fall.

“What we are really good at doing is identifying trends quickly and understanding what they are and responding swiftly,” he continued.

“But it’s quite often a difficult offence to trace.

“Thankfully most victims aren’t at home when the burglary occurs. Nine times out of ten people return home and find out there home has been burgled which is good from my point of view because I don’t want people having the stress and fear of being approached by a burglar.”

He added: “Burglary of people’s homes is never going to go away.

“Our burglary levels remain low and I know that when we are compared to our most similar areas we fair very well.

“But we are not complacent.”

Door-to-door enquiries post burglary have been stepped up in a move known as ‘super cocooning’.

Officers have expanded their enquiries to the wider community affected by incidents of burglary, building on communication with residents neighbouring the targeted property.

Looking to the year ahead CI Hodges said Horsham police have so far not identified any outstanding trends in crime that need addressing urgently.

Focus will continued to be on tackling burglary, producing anti-cycle theft initiatives and further developing the Shop Watch and Pub Watch schemes.

He hailed the street pastors scheme in Billingshurst as a success.

The group of volunteers was commissioned by Sussex Police and partner agencies to patrol the village at different times of the day to offer friendly and impartial advice to locals.

The chief inspector is looking into setting up a similar scheme in Horsham.

Over at Gatwick Airport Sussex Police is currently exploring the use of an unmanned aerial system drone to monitor incidents.

If the trial is successful the drone could be used for collecting evidence after crashes or major incidents and in the search for wanted or missing people, as well as at the airport.

CI Hodges said he is keen to hear the feedback of this and has reserved judgement on how affective the equipment will be.

“I can definitely see some advantages around the policing of big events but I’m not sure how I can see it working in day-to-day policing here,” he said. “I would view it as another tool in our armoury and I am interested to hear the feedback from Gatwick.”

Concluding the policing year 213/14, the chief inspector said: “We’ve had a challenging year this year, with a number of serious incidents on our road network, meeting demands around protest in Balcombe, we’ve successfully policed a hunting season and dealing with general day to day community concerns and responding to calls.

“I’m confident that we’re geared up, ready for the challenges this year will bring, particularly investing in Think Family [a national programme to turn around lives of families], around neighbourhoods, early intervention, diverting people away from crime. I’m looking forward to doing that both with local partners and most importantly the public of Horsham, whose support I’m very grateful of.”