Rural crime task force recovers $2.5 million in property since 2009

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

In 18 months, a Livestock and Farm Protection Task Force reactivated by Gov. Jay Nixon to address an increase in rural crimes like livestock and equipment thefts has helped Missouri farm families recover more than $2.5 million in agricultural property, $960,000 of it in Southeast Missouri, officials announced Tuesday.

Missouri Department of Agriculture director Dr. Jon Hagler, with Missouri State Highway Patrol Col. Ron Replogle and Polk County Sheriff Steve Bruce, made the announcement in Jefferson City, where they also addressed the task force's accomplishments since August 2009.

Seizing the property required law enforcement throughout the state to investigate 815 rural crimes, which led to 162 arrests. A total of 144 of the crimes were investigated in Southeast Missouri. Of those, 28 were in Cape Girardeau County, 26 were in Scott County, eight in Perry County, nine in Stoddard County, seven in Bollinger County and 17 in New Madrid County.

"We're certainly recovering a lot of property. I think the problem is getting better because the word is out that these investigators are out there," Replogle said.

Members of the task force come from agencies such as the highway patrol, the Missouri Sheriffs' Association, Missouri Farm Bureau, the U.S. and Missouri Department of Agriculture and many others.

Replogle said of the 815 investigations, 743 have involved the highway patrol assisting various law enforcement agencies in the state.

In Bollinger County, according to Sheriff Leo McElrath, the Rural Crimes Investigative Unit recently helped the agency work an animal abuse case at a farm just outside Marble Hill, Mo. With the farming community experiencing a theft sometimes weekly, McElrath said, the task force is particularly helpful when an investigation, such as a cattle theft, crosses county or state lines.

"A lot of times they're not disposed of in our county and they may be taken to another state or taken to a sale barn two or three counties away, out of our jurisdiction," McElrath said. "The task force has been beneficial to all of us, I just hope they can continue it."

Lt. David James of the Cape Girardeau County Sheriff's Department said the Rural Crimes Unit is often called in to assist, such as in late February when deputies discovered an abandoned shop on Highway 25 that was allegedly used as a chop shop. The unit was called, James said, because in the shop was metal belonging to several trailers stolen from out of state.

The highway patrol classifies rural crimes as burglaries or theft of equipment, livestock, fuel, chemicals, metal and property damage or arson. The highway patrol received $3.4 million in grant money in 2009, which funds 10 investigators to work for the Rural Crimes Unit.

James said investigators also assisted in a September case in which a Perryville, Mo., man falsely represented himself when buying 30 head of cattle from a livestock sales barn in Fruitland.

In addition to releasing data illustrating the task force's success, Hagler and officials discussed how to continue to raise awareness about rural crimes. Awareness, he said, is key to solving the cases.

They'll educate law enforcement and the farming community, too, with an increased campaign that includes signs and posters in the rural areas. Residents can also call a tip line -- 888-484-8477 -- if they suspect an agricultural crime.

"Hopefully we'll continue to see incidents drop, and hopefully we will be able to offer an additional level of protection," Hagler said.

ehevern@semissourian.com

388-3635

Pertinent Address:

Jefferson City, MO

Scott County, MO

202 High St., Marble Hill, MO

216 N. Missouri St., Jackson, MO

Map of pertinent addresses

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: