Farms, rural areas not immune to thefts and other crimes

policecar3According to the 2013 Crime in Virginia report compiled by the Virginia State Police, there were 39 burglaries reported at farm facilities that year, along with 20 more in fields and woodlands. Eighteen cases of stolen property were reported from those types of locations, along with 631 cases of vandalism, mostly in fields and woodlands.

The report is a compilation of local police reports gathered from across the state.

“We had a tremendous problem with metal theft a couple of years ago,” said David Hickman, a member of the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation board of directors who farms in Accomack County on Virginia’s Eastern Shore. “Center pivot (irrigation) systems are a major target. They steal the electrical wire. When they melt all the rubber off, they get about $400 for scrap metal at the junkyard, but it costs a farmer $5,000 to replace.”

Hickman’s farm was hit four times three years ago, and he was worried he would be dropped by his insurance company. He installed a wireless security system on his irrigation equipment that alerts him if someone tampers with the equipment.

Such thefts “have calmed down, in part because of strong prosecution,” Hickman said. “One case took me three days in court, but they convicted the guy and I get some restitution. Every few months I get $100 in the mail. I’ll never get back all that I lost, though.”

The Virginia General Assembly tightened regulations on scrap metal dealers in 2013, requiring dealers to document many objects sold to them in an effort to reduce scrap metal thefts.

In California, metal theft alone cost farmers $1.1 million in 2013. The San Diego County Sheriff’s Department has recommended that local producers survey their properties regularly to reduce security threats; inventory farm equipment for insurance purposes; and take regular counts of livestock.

Other rural crime prevention tips include forming watch groups that work with local law enforcement to keep an eye on remote properties; marking, tagging or tattooing equipment and animals; and installing video surveillance systems. Producers also are encouraged to use locks with metal covers over the hasps, light critical storage areas and fortify gates that could be removed easily.

“It’s not an organized program, but I tell my neighbors and people who live near an irrigation system that if they see anybody there, please call me right away,” Hickman said. “I have several contractors who’ll park their vehicles at my well-lit packing shed rather than leaving them out in the dark. You have to be careful leaving vehicles out in the field: they’ll siphon the gas right out of them.”

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