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Prevent Farm Theft | Summer 2015 Out Here Magazine

Simple precautions can prevent ‘ag crime’ on your property

By John Commins

Photography by iStock


Country residents know that rural America is not immune to the problems that plague urban life.

The threat of crime doesn’t go away just because the scenery changes from housing developments and strip malls to barns, pastures, and orchards. In fact, sparsely populated, wide-open spaces often with limited police protection provide excellent cover for thieves and vandals, allowing them to brazenly act with little fear of being seen or getting caught.

Rural residents can reduce their chances of being a crime victim, however, if they take a few simple precautions, says Lt. Tom Sigley with the Tulare County (Calif.) Sheriff’s Department.

“People are receptive to what we tell them” when it comes to security measures, Sigley says. “It’s just a question of people taking the time to do it.”

Sigley leads the Tulare Sheriff’s Department’s seven-officer Ag Crimes Unit that operates across the sprawling 4,800-square-mile county, just south of Fresno in the verdant San Joaquin Valley. Tulare County is one of the nation’s top agricultural producers of citrus, nut, and ground crops, as well as beef and dairy products.

From tractor thefts to cattle rustling to stealing crops, Sigley’s investigators have seen it all.

Unfortunately, his investigators are “pretty busy,” Sigley says, particularly with copper wiring theft on farm pumps and other machinery.

“It’s not so much the theft of the wire, because the wire is about a $200 loss,” Sigley says. “It’s the damage that is done getting at it, which can cost thousands of dollars to the pumps, that we are having an issue with.”


With manpower always a challenge, the Ag Crimes Unit is using technology to even the odds by using computer programs that map criminal activity and identify trends.

“Now we can see, with our copper wire thefts, if one area is getting hit,” Sigley says. “A while back we had a whole line of copper wire thefts that led us right to this community in King County where we found the guy in the front yard stripping the wire.”

When Sigley’s investigators identify a problem area, they install remote cameras with motion detectors that feed photos to deputies while a crime is being committed.

“One rancher had a rental home that kept getting burglarized,” Sigley says. “We put the camera out there. As soon as the burglar tripped it the camera started texting pictures to the detective. He called the patrol sergeant. They responded and caught the guy.”

Add lighting to your outbuildings and property to keep thieves and vandals from using the cover of darkness to commit their crimes.

Taking Precautions

While police are making headway, Sigley says the best course of action is to focus on prevention. For example, tractor theft is a big problem in Tulare County but deterrence is easy.

“One of our most common problems with tractor theft is they leave the keys in them,” Sigley says. “The second thing is you should change the key when you can because a lot of these tractors have the same key. If you have one tractor key it probably would start most tractors. Also, if you aren’t going to use the tractor, rather than leave it in the field overnight, take it back to the yard.”

Improved lighting is also an effective deterrent.

“A light that’s hooked up to a motion detector will cost you $30,” Sigley says. “When that light turns on that’s a deterrent to get them out of there.”

Taking a cue from urban areas, rural residents are also forming neighborhood watch committees and working with police.

Tulare County residents are more receptive to reporting crimes to the Ag Unit now that they know the information will be acted upon, Sigley says.

“A lot of times in the past,” he says, “they wouldn’t even call it in.”


A. Villarroel is a veterinarian with the Oregon State University Extension Service.

Summer 2015 Out Here Magazine Home Page