Dr. Kyle Mulrooney and Dr. Alistair Harkness Co-Directors, Centre for Rural Criminology at the University of New England
Crime victimisation amongst farmers is extremely high, particularly for property and acquisitive crimes. The NSW Farm Crime Survey conducted in 2020 found that 80 percent of farmers have been a victim of farm crime over their lifetime.
One of the most common crimes farmers and landholders experience is the theft of stock: 44 percent of those responding to the Survey had experienced stock theft.
There exist significant psychological and financial impacts of crime on Australian farmers and other rural property owners individually – and there are direct and broader social and economic implications which can impact the entire rural community and the wider agricultural industry (McCall, 2003).
There are several ways which police and communities can work together to reduce stock theft.
TIP 1: Report Stock Theft
This may sound straightforward and intuitive, but reporting crime is of paramount importance.
The data indicates that farmers tend not to report their victimisation, including that of stock theft – and for a variety of reasons.
- discovering the theft too late and having no indication of when the event occurred;
- perceptions of barriers to investigating crime in rural spaces, such as a lack of evidence or proof;
- and a lack of confidence in the police to able to solve the crime (see Mulrooney, 2021; Harkness, 2021).
Despite this, the lack of reporting is a fundamental problem in combatting stock theft. Most obviously, if police are unaware of crimes, they are unable to respond.
A lack of reporting also weakens the available intelligence for police decision making. For example, if several farmers within a specific radius have been victims of theft, the police may not be able to solve the individual crime but with intelligence-led policing, they may be able to identify opportunities for proactive intervention.
Without provision of information from victims, police and political decision makers alike remain in the dark and unable to allocate appropriate resources based on evidence.
TIP 2: Implement crime prevention measuresFarmers, too, can take any number of small and simple steps to improve farm security. Locking gates, removing keys from ignitions, ensuring fencing is kept secure, strategically placing trenches; installing CCTV in key points of entry/exit, marking property, erecting warning signage are all examples.
Of course, not all of these will always be practical on a working farm. Locking a gate that is open and closed many times a day, for instance, can slow down important work.
Yet, it is these small and relatively easy ‘crime prevention’ behaviours and tools that will mitigate crime. The key here is to make it substantially more difficult for the offender to commit the crime.
While these steps may seem simple, they introduce time and energy into theft; something offenders do not like as it increases the difficulty to commit the crime and, more importantly, the risk of being caught. And, when taken together, such tools and techniques can go a long way in improving farm security at minimal cost and effort.
TIP 3: Embrace new technologyWe live in an unprecedented time of technological change – and the agricultural sector is no less impacted when we look to evolutions in AgTech.
While much of new available technology focuses on things such as improving farming management and outputs, some advancements are ideally suited for farm security and the prevention and reduction of stock-theft more specifically.
In terms of technology in general, we can consider the increasing affordability of drones which may allow farmers and landholders to better observe their land and stock from above. On the ground, strategically placed high-resolution motion-activated cameras can record evidence – and when coupled with signage can serve as a deterrence.
Thinking of technology more explicitly tailored to the rural environment, and stock theft in particular, Ceres Tag offers a powerful means to fight back against stock thieves.
A recent study conducted by the Centre for the Rural Criminology evaluated the capacity of Ceres Tag to prevent, interrupt and reduce the theft of livestock. The results indicated that Ceres Tag may combat stock theft by allowing for rapid intervention/prevention, the tracking of stolen stock on route and recovering stolen stock at its destination.
Ultimately, Ceres Tag offers a promising technological tool through which farmers and landholders may secure their properties and prevent the theft of stock, while offering law enforcement officers a significantly improved capacity to intervene in stock-theft and recover stolen stock.
So what?The rural environment is conducive to crime and farms often provide an ideal criminogenic environment.
There are very few eyes and ears in the paddock to observe offenders committing crime, meaning little likelihood of being caught or punished, and there are difficulties with implementing physical target hardening measures.
At the same time, though, farm crime can offer a high reward to thieves: quite simply, stock is worth a great deal of money!
There is no shortage of motivated offenders who possess the practical and cultural knowledge necessary to undertake these crimes and they are aware of the current limitations on farm crime prevention and thus tempted and provoked by the perceived criminal opportunities.
Through some purposeful efforts, individuals involved in farming and farming communities more broadly can better secure farms and combat rural crime: by reporting rural crime; taking small and simple steps to improve farm security; and by considering the application of new technologies in the fight against rural crime.
Together, through these efforts, the tables can be turned on rural offenders.