Farm crimes are up

Farm crime has jumped 54 per cent in the past five years, and police are urging landholders to take precautions to deter thieves.

Sarah Luke

NEW data from the Crime Statistics Agency has confirmed a nine per cent increase across Victoria in livestock stolen in the past 12 months — a 54 per cent jump across five years.

According to the latest statistics, livestock valued at $42,060 was stolen from Sale, Cowwarr, Heyfield, Tinamba, Langsborough and Port Albert in the year to March 30, 2021.

During the same period, there were five non-aggravated burglaries from farmers’ homes, seven non-aggravated burglaries from non-residential farm premises, four counts of stealing from a motor vehicle, one theft of a bike and 22 counts of “other theft” on Wellington Shire farms.

Across the state 257 livestock, valued at more than $1.9 million, were stolen in the 12 months to March this year – up from 234 the year before, including 146 sheep, 85 cattle and 11 horses.

Sixty-eight items of farm equipment (to the tune of $241,112), 15 items of machinery ($187,553), 20 solar panels ($24,500), 22 pumps ($28,683), as well as 247 “other” farm items ($387,237) were reported stolen during the same time period across Victoria.

More than 480 power tools were stolen from Victorian farming properties (valued at $385,837), as well as 58 firearms and ammunition items ($37,360), 185 electrical appliances ($159,543), 125 garden items ($251,858), 36 items of jewellery ($56,160) and eight pets ($49,850).

In the year to March, there have been four arrests made in relation to stolen livestock, burglary break-and-enter and theft offences, 231 unsolved cases and 46 cases of “other”.

This is up on the two arrests made last year in relation to the same offences.

In September 2019, Victoria Police introduced farm crime liaison officers—- including two based in Sale — that specialise in assisting with farm-related crimes, but Victorian Nationals Leader and shadow agriculture minister Peter Walsh said the new statistics showed the state had got its ‘specialised farm crime unit’ wrong.

“Instead of appointing extra police dedicated to solving farm crime, Labor shuffled the deckchairs with a rebrand of the existing agricultural liaison officers,” Mr Walsh said.

“Our police work hard with the resources they have to keep us safe, but Labor’s failure to appoint dedicated officers means rural crime’s getting worse — not better — and offenders are walking free.

“A lot of rural crime goes unreported because farmers and rural landholders just accept that it will be difficult to get investigators out to help them.

“It’s a direct result of there being too few frontline police dedicated to solving rural crime and to provide an active and visible police presence in the community.”

At the time it was announced, Emergency Services Minister Lisa Neville said the new unit would help centralise Victoria Police’s response to farm crime, while also ensuring the continued presence of farm crime liaison officers across the state.

Wellington Police Acting Inspector Mel McLennan said a local push from police to “take stock of rural crime” was generated after previous campaigns to increase reporting rural crime by farmers.

She added that historically, farmers had been reluctant to report crime.

“The suspected reasons for the lack of reporting are that they fear the matter will be difficult to prove or solve,” she said.

“Farms are considered an easy target when it comes to thefts.

“Farm buildings quite often contain valuable items, are remote, have limited witnesses and neighbours available to canvas and generally do not have CCTV.

“These issues make it difficult to locate and collect evidence to assist with an investigation.”

Acting Inspector McLennan said there were actions farmers could take to help prevent theft on their properties.

“First and foremost, they need to report the matter as soon as it is discovered,” she said.

“Ensure all areas are secured to the best of their ability.

“Remove keys from all vehicles, including cars, utes and quad bikes etc.

“Keep records or photographs of any items of value, which includes the make, model and serial number.

“Consider marking power tools and machinery with an identifiable mark.”

Acting Inspector McLennan added farmers should also consider installing CCTV cameras or trail cameras in areas that would likely be targeted by would-be offenders.

She urged farmers to report offences, suspicious behaviour or vehicles on or around their properties.

“If we don’t know about it, we can’t help,” she said.

The VFF has produced an action and information guide for farmers experiencing intruders on their farms and Victoria Police and Crime Stoppers has prepared a checklist to help primary producers assess the security of their properties.

Both documents are available via vff.org.au by searching ‘farm crime’.