As farm activity increases over the summer months, security can become an afterthought. Leaving equipment, vehicles, spray materials and tools where criminals have easy access is a principal driver of rural crime.
Equipment including quads and tractors, diesel, crop protection materials and even fruit on the tree are all targets for thieves, reports Lt. Chad Rhyman of the Tulare County Sheriff’s Department Ag Crimes Unit.
“You can’t use 1960s type security in 2020,” Rhyman said, stressing that leaving equipment out in the field or orchard, unsecured, has been a common practice on farms and ranches. Now, it invites theft.
Most ag crimes, he said, are crimes of opportunity. Leaving a tractor, spray rig or harvest equipment out at the end of the day may save time and the expense of driving it to a secure parking place, but there is risk it won’t be there in the morning.
Hot items for theft are four-wheelers, tractors and tools. There have also been recent diesel fuel thefts in Tulare County, where a stolen trap trailer was hauled in to empty fuel storage tanks. Copper thefts, once a common occurrence, have been sporadic in the past year, increasing when the price of metals rises.
Rhyman said the TCSO Ag Crimes unit works with Farm Bureau and agricultural commissioner’s offices to help growers prevent theft. Owner applied numbers stamped on equipment has been helpful in returning stolen property, but the introduction of SmartWater in 2017, has been a crime deterrent. SmartWater, a forensic liquid that can be applied to nearly any surface links criminals to thefts and vandalism and links stolen items to their owners. The invisible odorless liquid stays on a thief for years and is picked up using ultraviolet light. More farmers and ranchers are now using SmartWater to mark equipment, fuel tanks and other property; the signage indicating the product is being used has proven to be the best deterrent to crime, Rhyman said.
Motion sensing camera systems to keep track of who is coming on the property can also be helpful. These systems pick up suspicious activity and alert the owner or farm manager. More sophisticated systems have a live video that can be accessed. Signs alerting trespassers that cameras are in use can also be a deterrent.
Prevention of theft can also be as simple as educating employees to report suspicious activity on the property in a timely manner. When employees come to work in the morning and see items missing or evidence of a break in, they should know to call and report right away. Employees should also be trained to notice and pay attention to people who don’t belong on the property.