Fresno County's Ag Task Force stakes out metal thieves

FRESNO, Calif.

The Fresno County Sheriff's Office has its own Ag Task Force. Often times, detectives scope out local recycling centers, where the criminals go to make money by selling the stolen metal. Fresno County has nearly a dozen recycling centers, offering cash for scrap metal. Sergeant Michael Chapman with Fresno County's Ag Task Force is familiar with each one.

Sgt. Chapman said, "Right now, it's about 3-50, 3-60 a pound for bright and shiny."

Every week, he drives by these businesses, in hopes of catching metal thieves. While it's difficult to tell which items have been stolen, Sergeant Chapman says detectives often look for people who appear suspicious. "Basically, you have to cast a real wide net, and kinda go from there."

Investigators say metal thieves are usually drug users. They steal overnight, sleep during the day, and try to sell the stolen goods in the late afternoon before recycling centers close. Detectives nabbed a suspect around 4 o'clock Wednesday. He's been arrested for a metal-theft related incident in the past. This time, he was taken into custody on a drug-related warrant.

A 2009 California law requires metal recyclers to take pictures of sellers, as well as their fingerprints, and a copy of their ID.

Martha Aban said, "Has to be valid id for any state of United States or a valid California ID."

But, the problem is getting worse. According to investigators, so far this year, metal theft in Fresno County has totaled 800-thousand dollars. That's more than all of last year.

Ryan Jacobsen said, "I don't know a single person; first hand know a personal farmer who hasn't been hit." Jacobsen with the Fresno County Farm Bureau says last year, someone stole several of these irrigation valves from his vineyard.

"They take it in and maybe recycle it maybe for a buck, maybe two, it costs us anywhere between 12 and 15 bucks a piece to replace," said Jacobsen.

Law enforcement urges farmers to start marking metal equipment, with bright paint, in case it gets stolen. They also advise using locks and barriers on your property.

Fresno County's Ag Task Force has eight detectives. That's down from 10 last year, before budget cuts.

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