Agricultural Property Theft Spiking

Merced, CA, USA Local growers say thieves are having a free for all at their expense. They're stealing everything from copper wire and brass valves to entire diesel trucks. The Merced County Sheriff's Department says nearly a half million dollars in stolen property has been reported so far this year.

Bob Weimer: "We've been probably robbed about 10 times this year and 10 different fields."

Bob Weimer is fed up with thieves targeting his property and other growers across the county.

Bob Weimer: "The thieves come in and cut the hoses here to get the brass out, leaving the grower with loose ends of hoses."

Weimer has lost an entire field of valuable brass valves and had row crops flooded by the leaking irrigation lines left behind.

Bob Weimer: "It's not just the loss of the valve, it's everything that goes with it."

Weimar also owns an irrigation dealership, and in the past two months he's had 45 growers come in multiple times to replace stolen parts.

Bob Weimer: "I suspect that we probably provided to customers, 40-50 thousand dollars worth of components."

Mark Pazin, Merced Co. Sheriff: "We're just a microcosm of what's going on through the whole state."

/*Sheriff Mark Pazin*/ blames the spike in rural thefts on the slumping economy.

Mark Pazin, Merced Co. Sheriff: "You have these thugs and crooks that are stealing everything they can, anything they can get their grubby little mits on and trying to turn it into cash at some of these salvage companies and some of these recyclers."

So far this year the sheriff's department has received 243 reports of Ag-related crimes. That's one hundred more than all of 2007. And that's why Pazin is asking the board of supervisors to approve funding for a special team of deputies to focus on rural crime.

Mark Pazin: "When you have a specialized unit that has their complete focus on running down these criminals, it gives them the flexibility to catch them."

Right now Merced County only has two deputies assigned to the Ag crimes task force.

The board of supervisors is expected to vote in two weeks whether to approve about 600 thousand dollars for another specialized team.


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