WITH $400,000 worth of sheep stolen from the Murray Mallee in the past 12 months, police are planning to add a new weapon to their Operation Poach arsenal.
SAPOL officer in charge of northern operations service coordination Chief Superintendent Fred Trueman said eight officers had been trained and appointed as agricultural liaison officers (AGLO) to help combat stock theft in seven country areas as the program moved into its second year.
“AGLOs will act as a contact or referral point for livestock industry stakeholders who need access to police services and they will liaise and provide advice or assistance on crime prevention and local policing strategies to farmers,” he said.
In the first year of Operation Poach the number of thefts reported increased from 55 to 174, with three arrests made for stolen wool bales.
The number of thefts remained high particularly in the Murray Mallee and Yorke Mid North regions with about 5000 sheep valued at more than $700,000 taken between July 2011 and July 2012.
Chief Superintendent Trueman said while the increase was a concern it may not represent a jump in thefts as much as highlight higher awareness of the problem among farmers and livestock industry workers.
“Certainly in the early part of the operation, there was a lot of enthusiasm to report theft to police, possibly in response to the operation and a greater awareness of the problem,” he said.
“However, late in the financial year, reports fell off by about 40 per cent and this may be attributed to a number of factors.
“These include an increased police presence within the farming community acting as a deterrent and community education to help step up crime prevention methods.”
The low number of arrests during the first year has been blamed on the time lapse between thefts and reports.
“Police understand that there is often a delay between counting stock, which results in livestock theft being reported about three to six months after the incident,” Chief Super-intendent Trueman said.
“This makes it harder for police to investigate the theft, so we try and encourage farmers to report as soon as possible after stock are noticed missing.”
Operation Poach was introduced last year following calls to reintroduce a stock squad to the State.
Since its introduction in July 2011, Operation Poach teams have attended livestock markets with local police to speak with agents, vendors and traders in the hope of identifying any livestock issues.
They have also visited properties where stock theft was reported to gather intelligence and evidence and help farmers undertake a self-assessment security audit developed by SAPOL’s Crime Prevention Branch.
Chief Superintendent Trueman said over the past year police had compiled a register of people and vehicles of interest and believed it was likely that those involved in livestock theft had extensive industry knowledge and experience.
“Over the next two years we will continue to build on our existing knowledge and incorporate problem solving strategies relevant to the nature and pattern of livestock theft in each country policing area,” he said.
“We recognise that livestock theft is not a high volume crime, but it continues to concern rural communities, so it will continue to concern police.”