Alabama’s new Agriculture and Rural Crimes Unit (ARCU) is investigating a rash of cattle thefts in Lauderdale County.
Although the official ARCU announcement will happen later this month, Gene Wiggins, who leads the new team, said investigators already are assisting sheriff’s departments with cases. “We were contacted last week about cattle stolen from Randy and Doris Hill,” Wiggins said.
“This is at least the fourth time since May 14 thieves have struck farms in Lauderdale County. We believe these crimes are related. Our investigator, Monty Merryman, has collected evidence and is working with the Lauderdale County Sheriff’s Department to identify suspects.”
The TimesDaily reported 30 Angus cattle were taken from the Hill’s pasture in the Murphy’s Chapel community.
"They cut the fence and just drove into the pasture," Doris Hill told the reporter. "They had to have two trailers because they got so many head."
Earlier in the month, thieves broke the lock on a gate and used Donnie Winter’s own catch pen to steal his cattle, according to the newspaper.
Wiggins said the Lauderdale County cases demonstrate the need for agricultural investigators. “With sheriff’s departments understaffed, it’s important to have trained investigators who understand these types of crimes and can focus on solving them,” Wiggins said.
“I appreciate Gov. (Robert) Bentley and Secretary (Spencer) Collier for allowing our unit to begin working cases and bring these criminals to justice.”
The creation of ARCU was authorized as part of a law enforcement consolidation bill the Alabama Legislature passed this spring. Bentley tapped Homeland Security Director Spencer Collier as secretary of the new Alabama State Law Enforcement Agency, which will include ARCU.
Agricultural investigators were previously housed in the Department of Agriculture and Industries, but recent budget cuts left the posts unmanned.
Will help curb rural crime
Although law enforcement consolidation isn’t required until January 2015, Bentley and Collier charged Wiggins with forming the unit immediately to curb rural crime.
Knowing agricultural investigators are on the case is welcome news to farmers like the Hills, who have been victims multiple times.
"In December, someone cut the fence at the same place, and went in and stole a tractor. We never got it back or found out who took it," Doris Hill told the TimesDaily. "It's hard enough to farm and try to make a go of it and then get hit like this. This hurts. We're suffering."
Because rural crimes often are related, Wiggins said it’s important for neighbors to report suspicious activity. “We are establishing a rural crimes hotline at 1-855-75-CRIME,” Wiggins said.
“In the meantime, we encourage the public to call the Alabama State Law Enforcement Agency at (334) 353-3050or their sheriff’s office.” Anyone with information about the Lauderdale County cattle thefts can call (256) 760-5757 or Shoals Crime Stoppers at (256) 386-8685.
The Alabama Farmers Federation and Alabama Cattlemen’s Association each offer a $1,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of criminals stealing cattle from a member’s property posted with signs from the respective groups.
For Farmers Federation signs, contact Leanne Worthington at [email protected]  or (334) 613-4272. For information about the Cattlemen’s reward program, call (334) 265-1867.
(For an earlier article on the formation of the rural crimes unit, see http://southeastfarmpress.com/equipment/alabama-farm-leaders-embrace-new-rural-crime-unit ).
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