San Benito County has agricultural commodities of more than $268 million annually and ranks at No. 28 in production value for the State of California. Agriculture is the largest industry in San Benito County. Roughly 32,000 acres are currently being farmed and 510,000 acres are being used for cattle grazing.
San Benito County has recognized that agricultural crime is an escalating problem requiring serious attention. Agricultural theft is a persistent problem in rural areas. The theft of crops, tractors, equipment, flowers, etc. has led to an estimated annual loss of $30 million to California farmers, according to the Rural Police Project. From the theft of these commodities to very expensive equipment used in the industry, there is no one area that has not been the focus of attention by criminals. It is said that only one of 10 farm crimes is reported, and the total annual losses are about $1 billion nationwide. Despite such figures, little attention has been given to a problem that endangers an entire industry.
As part of this project, San Benito County has staffed one full time detective to investigate agricultural crime and is working with the District Attorney’s Office in staffing one part-time deputy district attorney. The focus will be law enforcement efforts on agriculture specific crimes and to work with the 12 other counties in Central California as partners in the growing strategy to fight this crime on a regional as well as local basis.
One key point is to be sure to report ANY suspicious activity to the Sheriff’s Office immediately at (831) 636-4080. We can’t help you if we don’t know about it. Vehicles driving slow or repeatedly through an area should be reported. Also alert your neighbors; a good “neighborhood/farm” watch program will deter such crime. Most of all use common sense and pay attention to what is going on around you, your property, and your neighborhood.
- USE THE LOCKS ON DOORS! If possible, make sure external doors on the house and outbuildings are solid wood or metal and have dead bolts.
- ALARMS should be installed on any buildings that house equipment, tools, chemicals or seed. Without an alarm, a thief would have all night to empty your building and no one would be alerted.
- Consider investing in SURVEILLANCE CAMERAS and other equipment. Having an OCCUPIED RESIDENCE and good WATCH DOGS on site will also deter thieves.
- Install outside LIGHTS and keep them on at night. Thieves are like cockroaches and will avoid bright lights. Consider motion sensors that will set off lights and possibly alarms. Use timers that automatically turn on the outside lights when it gets dark.
- Prune shrubbery that may hide doors, windows, lights, and would-be burglars.
- Keep fences in good repair. Secure all access roads to your property and equipment with LOCKED gates or cables stretched between solid posts that are cemented into the ground. Up their visibility with flags or streamers.
- Secure pumps, tanks, storage bins, and other equipment with sturdy padlocks or dead bolts. Keep small equipment locked in a building.
- Mark all of your equipment and property with your OAN and be sure to record all serial numbers. OAN is owner-applied-number. These are unique numbers that are entered into a nationwide database that can help insure the return of your property if located. One can be obtained online at www.agcrime.net or by contacting the San Benito County Sheriff’s Office Agriculture Crimes Unit at (831) 636-4080.
- Use “No Trespassing”, “No Hunting”, Farm Watch”, and other signs all around your property to warn thieves that they are being watched. Work with your neighbors and law enforcement to implement a Farm Watch Program. Ask everyone in the area to patrol and report suspicious activity.
- Never leave keys in unattended vehicles or equipment. Don’t leave tools in the back of a pickup truck or in an unsecured truck bed toolbox.
- Don’t leave major equipment in a field overnight if possible. Lock it in a secure location or park it where it can be seen from your house or the neighbor’s. if machinery must be left out for extended periods of time, disable it and make it less desirable to a thief by removing the battery, distributor, or some other part that is necessary to it being moved.
- Check employees’ references BEFORE they start. Talk to them about your crime prevention program and let them know that you are vigilant.
- Keep storage areas neat and well-organized so that anything missing will be noticed right away. This also gives possible thieves the idea that the owner is paying attention to what is going on.
- Create the illusion that someone is home when you are away. Stop delivery of the mail or newspaper or have a neighbor pick it up for you. Have someone check the property when you are gone.
- Avoid feeding livestock next to a county or public road. Livestock will become accustomed to this and may run up to any vehicle that comes up to a fence.
- Brand, mark, tattoo, or identify all of your livestock in some manner. Ear tags and neck brands or chains can easily be removed by a thief.
- Photographing certain livestock and equipment is also a good measure to take in case you are faced with having to prove ownership. Be sure to concentrate on specific identifying features that are unusual and keep good records.
Chemical Theft Prevention:
- Open boxes and break container seals. Mark chemical boxes and containers with spray paint (create your own custom mark that can be identified later) or an ink stamp with your company name and phone number. This will make chemicals less attractive to thieves and will allow them to be identified if stolen and recovered.
- Order what you need and when you need it; do not store chemicals for extended periods. Deliver chemicals to a main location then transport to other locations.
- Lock up all chemicals; if stolen, they can be resold. Alarm chemical storage buildings and use surveillance cameras (a picture is worth a thousand words). Surveillance systems are expensive but when you consider the cost of chemicals today, it is a small investment.
- Don’t store chemicals in remote locations; a metal cargo container is a magnate for thieves and tells them that something valuable is inside. In remote locations, thieves have plenty of time to breach the seemingly well secured cargo containers.
Notify the Sheriff’s Office of your chemical delivery and storage sites.
To report a crime contact the Sheriff’s Office at 831-636-4080.
For more information contact the San Benito County Sheriff’s Office Agricultural Crime Detective, Ralph Morden, at: firstname.lastname@example.org
www.agcrime.net – ACTION Website
www.usda.gov/nass – (Farms/Acreage)
www.chp.ca.gov/html/farmconstruction.html – (Farm/Const Thefts)
www.cfbf.com – (CA Farm Bureaus – All 58 Counties)
www.ytmag.com - (Antique Tractors – Q & A)
www.stolenheavyequipment.com – (Canada)
http://www.cdfa.ca.gov/ahfss/Livestock_ID/Brand_Book.html – (Brands)