Commentary: New laws help with rural crime prevention

Issue Date: January 7, 2009

Detective Walt Reed, Kern County Sheriff's Office
In the world of rural law enforcement, we are very excited about the recent implementation of metal theft prevention legislation. We look forward to having a tool to help us combat a problem we have been fighting for years. At the height of the summer months, some of my detectives were spending 90 percent of their time on metal theft cases.

Walt Reed

Both AB 844 (Berryhill, R-Modesto) and SB 691 (Calderon, D-Montebello) require scrap metal recyclers to implement a three-day waiting period before paying for scrap metal, take a picture of scrap metal being recycled, obtain current identification and a thumbprint from sellers, obtain a disclosure of the origin of the scrap metal and report the information obtained to local law enforcement.

The bills also increase penalties against recyclers found in violation of the provisions and require convicted metal thieves to pay restitution to victims of metal theft. Both bills require law enforcement to obtain a warrant before obtaining fingerprints of scrap metal sellers and create a civil penalty against recyclers that provide any private data obtained through their transactions to those not authorized to obtain it.

SB 447 (Maldonado, R-Santa Maria) helps law enforcement officials quickly investigate stolen metal and apprehend thieves by requiring scrap metal dealers and recyclers to report on a daily basis what materials are being scrapped at their facilities and by whom. All of these new laws will produce a stronger paper trail needed to catch these thieves.

Although these new laws will help us put a stop to metal theft, we need your help too. Make sure to follow the tips to prevent rural crime that appear on this page.

Gary Barton, San Joaquin Farm Bureau Federation
If you are a farmer you probably use some type of metal on your farm. And if you have metal on your farm, odds are you have been or will be impacted by metal theft. Agricultural losses are not tracked on a statewide basis but in 2006, more than $6 million worth of metal was reported stolen in the eight Central Valley counties alone.

Gary Barton

The California Farm Bureau recognized metal theft as a major problem for family farms and worked hard to develop legislation that would help protect farmers from this costly crime. Three bills aimed at decreasing metal theft were passed last year and have already gone into effect.

These policy changes are a big step toward reducing metal theft; however without enforcement of these laws, little will change. As farmers and ranchers we have to work with our local law enforcement agencies and recyclers to let them know about the new requirements. Many are already aware, but hearing straight from growers who are affected by these crimes will help ensure their compliance.

As farmers some of you may be faced with another problem: peddlers coming on your property offering to take scrap metal off your hands and recycle it themselves so you don't have to deal with it. These peddlers are required to show proof of ownership of the materials they recycle. It is important that any documents you provide to peddlers apply only to the materials you provide to ensure that you're not helping them gain legitimacy for materials obtained illegally. Farm Bureau created a document that you can use for this purpose and it's available on the Farm Bureau Web site.

If you have any questions or would like additional information about the new requirements, please contact CFBF staff Noelle Cremers at (916) 446-4647 or Danielle Rau at (916) 561-5598.

Tips to prevent rural crime

Implementing these procedures on your farm or ranch will help prevent rural crime.

Copper wire and electrical components are favorite targets of thieves who are looking for metal to recycle.
  • Make sure there is proper lighting around storage areas and buildings.
  • Keep a record of who has keys to your locks.
  • Order only the supplies you need or will use up right away.
  • Provide employees with a communication system so they can quickly report suspicious activity.
  • Lock and remove keys from all company vehicles when they are not in use.
  • Always know who is on your property.
  • Properly fence property and storage areas using a tamper-resistant lock.
  • Talk to neighbors about suspicious people and vehicles.
  • Block the entrances and private roads that lead into orchards, vineyards and other fields. Make access to your property as difficult as possible to outsiders.
  • Keep an accurate and up-to-date inventory of all equipment and major supplies so you know what you should have and what may be missing.
  • Set up a system to routinely check your property for damage, vandalism and theft.
  • Report any criminal or suspicious activity immediately.
  • Make it a policy not to give combinations or keys to anyone who is not involved with your company.
  • Ask all delivery personnel not to leave packages or supplies without first contacting a designated employee.

Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.