Commentary: Rural crime prevention starts at the home ranch

Issue Date: June 10, 2015
By John Osbourn
John Osbourn
Marking agricultural equipment with an Owner Applied Number helps in the recovery of stolen items. Here, Louis Victoria of the San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Department puts an OAN on a battery for California Farm Bureau Federation First Vice President Kenny Watkins of Linden.
Photo/Christine Souza

Crime in today's rural environment affects farmers and ranchers every day throughout the state. As a cattleman and a peace officer, I see firsthand the impact that rural crime has on California farmers and ranchers as their equipment, livestock and crops are either stolen or damaged each year, resulting in untold losses to rural communities.

Local, state and regional governmental agencies are dedicating resources to mitigate rural crime effects and are looking at prevention measures. But where does rural crime prevention really start?

The California Farm Bureau Federation works on behalf of its members in a multitude of ways to facilitate and support rural crime prevention. I am a member of the CFBF Rural Health and Safety Committee, which partners with the California Rural Crime Prevention Task Force, whose mission is to develop solutions to the unique crime problems that afflict citizens in rural areas throughout California.

The task force is made up of approximately 26 different law enforcement agencies, as well as district attorney's offices and regulatory agencies such as agricultural commissioners. The task force strives to accomplish its mission by forging stronger alliances between itself and rural communities, by educating the public and focusing efforts on the prevention of crime in rural regions of California.

Agricultural crime investigators are hard at work each day across the state, making great cases and arrests. However, criminal investigations are reactive in nature rather than preventive. Rural crime prevention truly begins with the alliances between rural law enforcement and rural communities. It starts on the home ranches and farms across this state.

As landowners and land stewards, we know our farms and ranches the best and are often in a position to observe suspicious activity and note criminal activity. Prevention really begins when this information is shared with local law enforcement authorities, whether it is communicated to a deputy sheriff or the county's rural crime task force.

We, as farmers and ranchers, are encouraged to prevent rural crime in a few simple steps—with the most important step being reporting crimes as they occur.

Oftentimes, those of us in agriculture choose not to report a small crime, because we feel like nothing can be done. Farmers and ranchers need to be aware that their reports of thefts and other seemingly insignificant crimes greatly assist law enforcement with identifying crime trends and areas to target, and our report may be the final piece of the puzzle that breaks open a larger investigation. Local crime analysts use these types of reports to establish crime trends and conduct crime mapping that can focus law enforcement resources to where and when rural crimes are occurring. Without the reporting data, law enforcement officers are left to find the needle in the haystack on their own.

Secondly, those in agriculture should get to know local law enforcement officers. Knowing the good men and women of the local law enforcement agency is just good business. The officers become more familiar with us, our farms or ranches and our operations, making it easier for law enforcement to spot suspicious activity. We get to know the folks who are protecting our farm or ranch, and establish the alliance necessary to prevent rural crime.

Contact your local law enforcement agency and inquire about rural crime. If you live in one of the 26 law enforcement jurisdictions that are task force members, chances are your local county Farm Bureau knows the rural crime investigators and can provide a point of contact.

Lastly, we can reduce the risk of crime by protecting our farm or ranch by securing equipment, gates, crops and outbuildings. Most thefts are crimes of opportunity, where equipment, gates or outbuildings are left unsecured for extended periods of time. We can protect our investment by closing and locking gates, parking and locking equipment near residences and roadways, and by securing outbuildings.

Applying an Owner Applied Number, or OAN, to equipment can also assist in the recovery of stolen agricultural items. To learn more about this step, take a few minutes and visit the task force website at or contact your local law enforcement agency. For additional resources on preventing rural crime, visit the CFBF website at, find the Programs menu at the top and click on "Rural Crime Prevention."

(John Osbourn is chief of police of the Yuba Community College District Police Department in Marysville and a Yuba County cattle rancher. He may be contacted at

Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.