The Liberal Democrat candidate for police and crime commissioner (PCC) in Devon and Cornwall has accused the Conservative government of “neglecting” communities, amid claims the force has only three officers and staff dedicated to dealing with rural crime.

PCC candidate Steve Lodge said the figure represented only 0.05 per cent of the Devon and Cornwall Police's overall workforce, adding that it was a “damning statistic” for the region where the rural community made up a significant part of the landscape.

The party said it had obtained the data through a series of Freedom of Information requests, arguing that every force should have a specialist coordinator in their rural crime team, in line with recommendations from The National Rural Crime Network.

The Lib Dems also quoted a 2023 report from the NFU Mutual, the official insurer of the country’s main farming unions, including the National Farmers Union, showing that the cost of rural crime across the UK rose by 22 per cent the year before, to an estimated total of £49.5 million.

Rural crime includes anti-social behaviour, as well as incidents involving wildlife and heritage offences, and theft of farm equipment and animals.

In response to the claims, Devon and Cornwall Police told this paper that the force “has a small, dedicated team of four specialist officers for rural affairs who act as advisors”, adding that an unspecified number of special constables would be joining the rural affairs team this year.

On May 2, police and crime commissioner elections will be held across England and Wales. In Devon and Cornwall, voters will get to choose from the incumbent PCC Conservative Alison Hernandez, Mr Lodge, and Daniel John-Steel from the Labour and Co-operative Party.

In the run-up to the election, Mr Lodge has also focused on longer response times to burglary calls, saying it takes officers an average time of 22 hours to respond, compared to Bedfordshire, where it takes 15 minutes, claiming that ineffective resourcing had left local police forces overstretched.

Meanwhile, a Devon and Cornwall Police Federation survey has revealed that up to 16 per cent of serving officers say they intend to resign from the service, either “within the next two years” or “as soon as [they] can”.

The survey, released last week, based on the response of more than 1,000 serving policemen, also found that 82 per cent of the force’s officers feel worse off financially now than they were five years ago. In addition, 17 per cent said they “never” or “almost never” have enough money to cover all their essentials.

Although officers received a seven per cent pay rise last year, the Police Federation stated that it has meant a 16 per cent real-terms pay cut over the past 12 years.

Figures from the 2023 Police Federation of England and Wales Pay and Morale Report published last week also revealed that 66 percent of officers are dissatisfied with their pay, with the vast majority of respondents (90 per cent) saying they have seen living cost increases in the previous month.