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Crime in rural areas on increase

News media constantly report on the epidemic of crime in city and urban settings. Historically, rural residents have enjoyed lower incidences of crime than their city neighbors but this appears to be changing.

Increased affluence of farm and non-farm populations in rural areas, declines in the number of households with family members at home during the day, and the poor visibility of property between neighbors and from public roads have resulted in increased crime in rural communities.

Like their city neighbors, rural residents tempt criminals with easily “fenced” items such as jewelry, guns, computers, home entertainment systems and other items found in city dwellings. But rural areas have additional problems such as arson and vandalism of property and theft of high valued farm equipment, crops, and livestock.

Rural crime is costly and infuriating to victims. To make matters worse, farmers often have inadequate or no insurance coverage on some items such as old buildings, raised livestock, etc. However, country dwellers can take action to protect their property and discourage criminals.

The first step in crime prevention is to be a good neighbor. Make it a point to know your neighbors and pay attention to what goes on around their homes, livestock, equipment and buildings. Let them know if you have observed something you perceive as unusual or suspicious. Write down license numbers of strange automobiles in areas you feel they don't belong. Ask your neighbors to do the same for you.

Second, use a standardized system to mark farm machinery, equipment and other personal items. To participate in the equipment ID system, contact your county sheriff to be assigned a property identification number. This identification code will consist of ten letters and numbers arranged to tell law enforcement officers the state, county, and person to whom the equipment belongs. Many law enforcement offices have marking kits available at little or no charge. By using the standard system for marking farm machinery and equipment, criminals are warned that property examined by law enforcement anywhere in the nation can be traced to the rightful owner.

Keep a complete inventory list of all property including model numbers, serial numbers, identification numbers and their locations, and other identifying features, along with original costs. Photos taken with digital cameras or other would also be useful, especially for jewelry, coins, etc. This data should be kept in a safe place in the home or office and a duplicate copy kept off premises. This will be invaluable information in the event of a theft or fire.

The next step is to secure property and discourage would-be thieves. Make sure all outside doors are solid wood or metal and have dead bolt locks. Secure sliding glass doors with commercially available locks and insert screws in the upper track going into the fixed frame to prevent anyone from lifting the door from its track. Secure double-hung windows with sliding bolts or nails through a hole drilled at a downward angle in each top corner of the inside sash and part way through the outside sash. Don't forget to secure basement windows as well.

Thieves hate bright lights. Install outside lights and keep them on at night. Keep your house, driveway, barns, and other buildings well lighted at night. Use timers that automatically turn on outside lights when it gets dark. Consider motion sensors that set off lights or alarms. Prune back shrubbery that hides doors, windows, lights, and prowlers. Keep your fences in good repair. Secure all access roads with gates or cables stretched between posts cemented in the ground. Make them visible with flags or streamers.

Protect livestock and equipment as well. Work with law enforcement to mark your property. Tattoo or brand your livestock. Other types of livestock identification can be easily removed by a thief. Take regular counts of your animals. Secure gas pumps, gas tanks, storage bins, and grain elevators with sturdy padlocks or dead bolts. Keep small equipment like mowers, bikes, 4-wheelers, etc. locked in a barn or garage. Keep guns locked and unloaded in a secure place away from curious children and would-be thieves. Gun safes or trigger locks would be good investments as well.

Never leave keys in vehicles or farm equipment. Always lock your trucks and other vehicles when they're not in use. And don't leave tools in the open back of a pick-up truck or in an unsecured truck bed toolbox.

Don't leave major equipment in a field overnight if it can be avoided. Lock it in a barn or shed near the house, or park where it can be seen from your house or a neighbor's. If machines must be left out for long periods, disable them by removing the rotor, distributor, or battery.

Keep storage areas neat and well-organized so that thefts will be noticed immediately. This also warns would-be thieves the owner is watchful. Store harvested crops in protected and locked locations. Consider marking grain, hay, or similar crops with nontoxic confetti that is easily removed by storage or processing facilities.

Check employees' references before you hire them. Before they begin work discuss your crime prevention measures and your expectation of their compliance.

Finally, warn thieves that you are on the alert. Post “no-trespassing,” “no-hunting,” and other signs around your property. Some farm organizations provide signs and pay rewards for their members, make use of them when available.

Don Smith is a farm management specialist for the University of Missouri Outreach and Extension Center, Kahoka, Mo. e-mail: [email protected].

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