Task Force Created to Reduce Farm Equipment Metal Theft in 3 States

A new group trying to reduce metal theft from agriculture operations in Mississippi, Louisiana and Arkansas.

Mississippi Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann said his office is creating a Mississippi Delta Agricultural Theft Task Force to connect law enforcement agencies, scrap metal recycling yards and others.

The Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce says 33 percent of farm crimes in 2014 involved the theft of agriculture equipment.

Gibb Steele, who farms in Washington County, Mississippi, said $10,000 to $20,000 worth of metal is stolen from his operation each year, the Delta Democrat Times reports.

“I doubt that there is an irrigated farmer in Washington County that hasn’t had some wire stolen,” Steele said Thursday at an event where Hosemann announced the task force.

Some farmers don’t check their equipment until they need it, which can span a long period of time, he said.

“They steal the wire off of the electrical wells.. But we go out there to turn our wells on in the spring,” Steele said. “We don’t look at them all winter because we don’t use them, and then we have to ask an electrician to come out there and wire them back up. It is a pretty big expense.”

With vast unattended acreage and an infrastructure of irrigation systems, storage sheds, barns and equipment, Delta farmland is a rich target for metal thieves.

“Delta farmers face huge losses from copper theft, and we are committed to making it tougher to profit from these thefts and easier for these thieves to go to prison,” Hosemann said.

The task force will create an alert system through a metal-theft investigation system on the LeadsOnline website, and Hosemann said his office will give law-enforcement agencies in Delta counties and parishes in the three states free access to the site. More than 30,000 businesses nationwide report transactions through the site, he said.

Law enforcement agencies and scrap metal dealers will work with the task force, Hosemann said. He said it can be difficult for scrap yards to know whether items were stolen.

Attorneys general in Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas and Tennessee met in Memphis in 2014 to discuss preventing the sale of stolen copper across state lines.

In July 2015, Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge started a metal theft prevention program. She directed investigators from her office to inspect scrapyards to ensure metal sold there is properly registered.