Rural crime: Prevention is the key


Issue Date: May 4, 2005
Christine Souza

San Joaquin County almond grower Kevin Fondse never thought rural crime would impact him so much that he would have to install a security system, but that is exactly what he did to protect himself, his family and his farm.

Like many farmers in California, Fondse has been the victim of rural crime on more than one occasion. In his case, thieves stole fuel and broke into his supply room. So to deter trespassers and thieves, Fondse installed a security system.

"Last year I lost about 400 gallons of gas," Fondse said. "I installed the video camera system two years ago and recently updated to a digital photo system. The pictures are clearer and more helpful to law enforcement in catching the criminals."

Each night as a precautionary measure Fondse—a past president of the San Joaquin Farm Bureau Federation—removes keys and batteries from equipment, plus he maintains a motion sensor that alerts him to trespassers. He also keeps a camera with him during the day so he can quickly take photos of suspicious vehicles, license plates or anything else that can be used as evidence.

"Kevin is doing everything right on his farm but we all know that when it comes to catching criminals, it is just a game of cat and mouse," said San Joaquin County Sheriff's Department Detective Frank Dorris, a veteran of 23 years in law enforcement who works closely with rural crime task force units from other counties. "We are trying to teach farmers and their employees that they are the first line of defense when it comes to protecting the property. You have to go out and check people who are on your property because they are looking to see what they can get from you."

Video camera security systems are becoming more popular among growers, dairy farmers and food processors, not only to prevent theft around the property but to ensure the safety of the nation's food supply.

Chowchilla dairyman Art DeJager hired Pelco, a Clovis company that manufacturers video surveillance equipment, closed-circuit television systems, monitoring units and video surveillance cameras, to install a several-thousand-dollar security system at the dairy.

"There is no way that we can be everywhere all of the time so this camera is our eyes," DeJager said. "The system is an effective crime-prevention tool because people are immediately aware that if they try to steal something or go through with any kind of criminal activity, they are going to be on tape."

DeJager said another important reason for installing the video surveillance system is to prevent any tampering with the milk or animals.

"There is more than one reason why I installed the surveillance camera system, but probably one of the biggest reasons is for safety monitoring at the dairy. If there is any kind of foul play or misconduct, we are going to see it on the cameras," DeJager said. "The camera records everything and we are even able to back-date a couple of weeks on these cameras."

DeJager believes that sooner or later, all farmers will be forced to take similar precautionary measures to protect their farms and, ultimately, the nation's food supply.

Although the rate of recovery for the San Joaquin County Sheriff's Department task force currently stands at 70 percent, Dorris said, farmers can always do more to help prevent rural crime. One important tip is to keep valuable equipment locked rather than left unattended in the field.

To prevent rural crimes such as theft, vandalism or other violations, Elisa Noble, California Farm Bureau Federation rural crime prevention coordinator, encourages farmers to display "No Trespassing" signs on the farm or ranch, because rural crime begins with trespassing.

Posting the signs benefits farmers because of a law that became effective in 2004, increasing the penalty for those who trespass on farms.

The law revised the penalty provisions of the California Penal Code, raising the penalty to $75 for a first offense of trespass, and to $250 for a second offense. A third or any subsequent offense would constitute a misdemeanor that carries a penalty of imprisonment in the county jail not exceeding six months or a fine of up to $1,000, or both.

For farmers and ranchers to benefit from the law, they must ensure that "No Trespassing" signs are displayed properly. Signs must be displayed at intervals of not less than three signs per mile along all exterior boundaries and at all roads and trails entering the property.

"Farmers need to take more precautions to ensure that they do not become victims of theft," Noble said. "We must protect our property."

As an added prevention measure in the case of diesel fuel, Noble encourages farmers to use red diesel on their farms. Off-road diesel, which is dyed red, can be purchased at a discounted price and is only to be used for on-farm equipment.

"The use of red diesel helps law enforcement officials identify thieves who have stolen diesel from a farm," Noble said.

Due to the widespread concern about the increase in the number of thefts in rural communities, Noble recommends that farmers take part in the Owner Applied Number crime prevention program.

Established by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the OAN program provides participants with a method to identify their property. Each user is issued a 10-digit identification number that is unique to each rancher or farmer. These numbers are stored in a database in the National Crime Information Center so that when property with a member's number is recovered, the property can be traced and returned to the owner.

The program has been able to identify farm machinery, equipment and even household goods.

To take part in the OAN program, go to the Agricultural Crime Technology Information and Operations Network Web site at www.agcrime.net.

Read the four-part series.

(Christine Souza is a reporter for Ag Alert. She may be contacted at csouza@cfbf.com.)

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