With the weather clearing and the sun imposing more of its presence in the California sky, attendees began to flow into the International Agri-Center for the second day of the World Ag Expo in Tulare Wednesday. The morning offered a little bit of line dancing from the Bakersfield-based Western Line Club as part of the World Ag Women sessions during the expo.
It was not all fun and games—although any grower could make the case—at the World Ag Expo. One of the many morning General Ag Seminars included a lesson in rural crime prevention strategies from the members of the Tulare County Sheriff’s Department Ag Crimes Taskforce.
The taskforce investigated 194 ag-related crimes last year within their region last year. Out of that, 112 of those cases were submitted to the district attorney’s office with 70 felony charges filed. More than $1.1 million of property was found and returned to their rightful owners.
Led by Lt. Tom Sigley and his team of officers, the taskforce gave attendees tips and advice on how to secure farms and ranches against theft and rural crimes. Some of the advice boiled down to common sense.
“If something can be locked, lock it up: Your doors, windows, everything in shop, stock it away at the end of the day,” said Det. Randy Gunderman. “I know sometime when you’re in the field, it may not be possible to bring the equipment back to where you had it, but that’s when it becomes a target.”
Gunderman advised that it’s worth a grower’s while to return the equipment back to where they had it previously to deter any chance of theft. He also shed light on concept of an Owner Applied Number (OAN).
The OAN, akin to VIN number or registry via the Bureau of Livestock, is a nationally established ID that’s stored in the National Crime Information Center. The OAN can be placed on any piece of farm equipment from a tractor to an item as small as a chainsaw. When property with an OAN is discovered after theft, the marked property can be traced and returned to its owner from anywhere in the U.S.
“The 10-digit number is unique, so it can be used by out-of-state law enforcement for tracing,” said District Attorney investigator Josh Rowlett. He mentioned for growers who lived nearby that he’d personally help to register an OAN on farm property. “It’s a simple act, plus it’s free of charge.”
Aside from the ID marking, the taskforce also suggested growers to keep an eye on their current and former employees since suspects who are familiar with the property are the most common perpetrators.
Methods such as regularly rotating the work schedule and installing game cameras—used for deer hunting—were used as examples of ideal deterrents for criminals. The taskforce recommended such cameras to be placed in spaces such as citrus groves and other bush areas that offer thieves and trespassers a place to hide.
One of the attendees, Mike McDongal, a farmer from Edlerwood, listened intensely to the presentation. The week prior, he was a victim of vandalism and theft costing his farm more than $5,000 lost value.
“This (seminar) was very helpful,” he said. “I’m definitely going to use this information.”
McDongal explained that as a victim of crime, he has reevaluated the way he’ll protect himself and his property going forward. “Having this happen to me is making me think how to take better care of my property,” he said. “I’m not as safe as I thought I was. I need to take these steps to make my place more safe.”
The second night ended with an After Hours Party at the World Ag Expo Arena with live music and a networking social. The conference wraps up its final day Thursday.
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