Ag Crime Prevention Tips

Whether natural, like hurricanes, or human-caused, like urban sprawl, cattle ranchers rise and face countless challenges to the success and security of their operations.  Of these, the most offensive are the challenges inflicted by others in the way of agricultural crimes.  On ranchlands, these include livestock, machinery, and/or equipment theft; poaching; vandalism; trespassing; and more.  It is difficult to assess the impact of ag crimes simply because there are very few research studies into rural crimes and a lack of classification categories in official records.  However, the economic impact not only affects the rancher, who must replace or compensate for what is stolen or damaged, but the consumer who ultimately will pay more for short-supply commodities, and the insurance industry, which may have to pay to replace stolen or damaged goods.

In Polk County, we are fortunate to have a dedicated unit of the Sheriff’s Department that combats agricultural crimes.  Before the necessity to call on law enforcement, there are some steps that livestock operators can take to make their property more secure and less inviting to prospective thieves and other criminals:

  1. Be Aware
    1. Report suspicious activity around your and your neighbor’s properties. Ask your neighbor to do the same for you.  Vehicles parked on the side of the road could signal a trespasser.  In some cases, criminals may drop off their partner(s) at the road to return later to pick them up after they have stolen or scoped a place to return later.  Industry organizations, like the Florida Cattlemen’s Association and Farm Bureau, offer rewards to persons providing information leading to the arrest and final conviction of anyone committing arson, theft or criminal damage to a member’s property.
    2. Know who has access to and/or knowledge of your property. In many cases, evidence indicates that the criminal had to have prior knowledge of the property and is most likely someone who has a tie to the property. Only share keys and or lock combinations with individuals you can trust.
    3. Count cattle regularly. Avoid long spans of time between riding through the herd.  By visiting your herd regularly, you increase your awareness of the happenings and decrease the opportunities for criminals to steal your property.
    4. Avoid routines. By the same token, Visit often but at irregular intervals.  Established patterns make it easier for criminals to plan their crime while you are away.
    5. Survey your property. Consider installing video surveillance cameras and alarms.
  2. Secure Your Property
    1. Lock gates, barn doors, equipment sheds, trailers, etc.
    2. Remove keys from vehicles and equipment.
    3. Park trailers and equipment out of view and away from the road.
  3. Make Your Mark
    1. Post warning signs. “No Trespassing by Order of the Sheriff” signs are available through the PCSO.  To learn more about this, contact the PCSO Ag Crimes Unit at (863) 534-7205.  Members of Farm Bureau can also obtain “No Trespassing” signs at the local office.  “Property Under Video Surveillance” signs are also a good theft deterrent.  Thieves are looking for sites that are less risky.
    2. Brand and/or ear notch your livestock. In the event of theft, this will make it easier to identify your stock and prove ownership.  Make sure your brand is registered with the Florida Department of Agriculture.
    3. Put your mark on other property, such as saddles, tools, batteries, equipment, and anything else of value.
      • Marking your property with your driver’s license number or your brand will make it easier to look up your information should your property be found beyond the expected search area. It is not uncommon for property to be stolen and then sold or found across state lines or further.
      • While a conspicuous mark is helpful should your property be found, criminals are also likely to remove or alter any markings. A second marking in a hidden location is a good idea.  Should your property be found, you will be able to prove ownership with your mark.  This helps not only in retrieving your stolen property but also helps law enforcement officers convict criminals.
      • Install tracking equipment on your property. This can be as simple as using a Bluetooth low energy (BLE) tracking device, such as an Apple Air Tag, Tile, or other devices.  These devices are small enough that they can be hidden.  Criminals will check for tracking devices and disable them if they can.
    4. Keep Pens Away from the Roadway
      1. Pens that are close to the roadway make it easier for thieves to move cattle to the pens and load them up quickly.
    5. Protect Your Personal Safety
      1. In remote locations, you may be your only defense. Unknowingly coming upon a criminal can quickly become dangerous.  Carrying a cellphone and a legally registered and licensed firearm or other weapon may help you protect yourself in this situation. Only carry weapons that you have been properly trained and certified to handle.
    6. Join Your Local Industry Associations
      1. Becoming a member of industry associations such as the Polk County Cattlemen’s Association and Polk County Farm Bureau help to unite the agriculture community. Members of the local county associations are also automatically members of the state associations.
      2. As previously mentioned, both associations help protect your property by providing signs and offering rewards. They also represent the interest of the ranching and agriculture communities to decision makers.

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Posted: November 9, 2022

Category: Livestock
Tags: Ag Crime, Livestock, SFBF

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