State broadening efforts against agricultural thefts

Thursday, August 20, 2009 | 7:42 p.m. CDT

SEDALIA, Mo. (AP) — Missouri is broadening its effort to stamp out cattle rustling.

Gov. Jay Nixon said Thursday that he was expanding the mission of a cattle theft task force created by his predecessor to also focus on thefts of livestock trailers, agricultural equipment and farm chemicals.

"Perhaps spurred by the economic downturn, we are seeing an increase in the number of crimes being committed against our farmers and their property," Nixon said Thursday at the Missouri State Fair. A livestock trailer, tractor and the grand champion steer served as a backdrop.

"We have seen in this state brazen cattle thefts, we've seen expensive farm equipment disappear from fields and sheds, and we continue to see thefts of chemicals" for illegal drug manufacturing, Nixon said.

Then-Gov. Matt Blunt created a cattle theft task force in February 2006 to coordinate efforts between various state law enforcement agencies and some local sheriff's departments. Blunt said in April 2008 that the task force's efforts had led to 26 arrests and the recovery of 126 cattle since its creation.

Cattle experts said at the time that a trailer full of stolen calves can fetch $12,000 and a single 500-pound calf can sell for $600.

Blunt left office in January.

Nixon's agriculture director, Jon Hagler, said the cattle theft task force still exists, but some of its members have left, and the group hasn't met since last year.

Hagler said a revived and expanded Livestock and Farm Protection Task Force would meet regularly and coordinate efforts statewide to solve specific agricultural theft cases.

Similar to missing persons alerts sent to law enforcement and media, Hagler said he hoped the task force could serve as a "cattle alert system" to put law officers, sale barns and agricultural officials on notice following thefts. He said quick action is needed, because stolen livestock typically are taken across county and state lines and soon sold.

Missouri's revived task force will be forming as a new law takes effect lengthening sentences for repeat cattle rustlers.

The law, effective Aug. 28, requires people with prior livestock-theft convictions to serve at least 80 percent of their sentences before being eligible for parole if they are convicted of stealing more than $3,000 worth of livestock.

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