During a recent Stanislaus County Farm Bureau workshop, Governmental Affairs Director Tom Orvis asked a group of about 50 local farmers if they or their property had been a recent victim of crime. Nearly every single farmer raised their hand, and now farmers have begun voicing their frustration with the county’s rural crime activity.
In recent months, rural crime — such as metal, chemical and parts theft — has moved up the ladder of concern for the Farm Bureau, the Turlock Irrigation District, the Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Department and the private sector.
Driven primarily by drug abuse, thieves and vandals have been stripping wire and removing parts from equipment, and stealing metals such as copper.
The challenge for farmers and agricultural businesses is a lack of law enforcement in rural areas due to dramatic cutbacks in funding for the sheriff’s department.
“The bad guys know that sheriff deputies are being laid off and they know that now is the time for them to get what they need to pay for their drugs. It’s all tied back to drug use,” said Orvis.
Stanislaus County Sheriff Adam Christianson realizes the potential time-bomb in rural areas.
“I’m really concerned that we will see an increase in rural crime. With the department losing so many deputies we now have to become a reactive organization instead of a proactive organization. You’re not going to arrest your way out problems related to drugs, but you can make a difference, and I don’t want to lose any ground that we had made,” he said.
Concern about rural crime has reached the Turlock Irrigation District as well.
“In the past year, the district has either received reports or has self-documented many examples of tampered pumps, vandalized canal drop gates, metal or other theft, graffiti, and more. These crimes are not only cause for concern for TID, but continue to cause undue anxiety for landowners who live near district canals,” said TID Public Information Specialist Herb Smart.
The problems for TID have become so rampant that a private security firm has been hired to patrol TID canals and facilities seven days a week, on a 24-hour basis.
In the private sector, GDI Insurance in Turlock is offering awards up to $500 for information leading to the arrest of thieves or return of stolen property. GDI will pay rewards for all rural crime victims who are members of the Stanislaus or Merced County Farm Bureaus or GDI customers.
GDI President Grant Davis, who personally lives in the country and has been a victim of rural crime, saw the reward as a possible solution.
“You know I just said this is getting ridiculous and I decided to put up a reward for one of our customers in Patterson. We got the word out and the people got caught because someone turned them in, $500 is enough to get drug users turned in,” said Davis.
“The agriculture community seems to be an easy target for theft, we’ve all got to be more aware about what’s going on, and we have to work together” said Orvis.
Awareness and communication appear to be the some of best answers for Sheriff Christianson and rural communities. The Farm Bureau and the sheriff’s department have begun an e-mail chain in which information is shared between the two agencies and rural residents. The chain can contain information about suspicious cars or people and related topics.
“We have to be more creative and strengthen our partnerships together,” said Christianson. “With limited resources, we need people in rural areas to be our eyes and ears. On top of that we recommend they lock down, weld down and nail down anything and everything.”
The sheriff’s department initiated an owner-applied program, which is when sheriff volunteers go out to farms and stamp unique serial numbers onto agricultural equipment. Those numbers are entered into a database and if they are found after being stolen they can be tracked and returned to the owners.
For more information on the GDI award program, visit http://www.gdiinsurance.com/contact-us/business-memberships/farm-team-look-out.
To contact Jonathan McCorkell, e-mail email@example.com or call 634-9141 ext. 2015.