Cattle, Timber Thefts, Stolen Equipment And Cases Of Arson Top Agricultural Crime

Saturday, April 21st 2007, 2:00 pm
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Mike Grimes is a familiar face in law enforcement circles. He's spent more than half his life fighting crime, including 33 years with the Oklahoma Highway Patrol.

Grimes, who retired as deputy chief with the patrol in May 2006, hardly let the lull of retirement to get to him. The 65-year-old took over the investigative division within the state Department of Agriculture Food and Forestry in February.

With nine full-time investigators across the state, the group investigates costly timber theft, cattle rustling, stolen saddles and tack and agriculture machinery that comes up missing.

Investigators with the Department of Agriculture _ armed and certified by the Council of Law Enforcement Education Training _ often work with county sheriff's deputies when thefts are committed.

Investigators with the Department of Agriculture have something most sheriff's deputies don't, the ability to cross county lines to nab a thief who may have a stolen trailer or calves from a roadside pasture.

``Sheriff's departments are undermanned,'' Grimes said. ``A deputy might be working a trailer theft, a domestic or a murder at the same time. This is something we specialize in.''

Most people don't know that the state investigates cattle thefts or stolen equipment. Investigators working for Grimes also investigate arson when a wildfire sweeps across the plains and help recover stolen livestock trailers that end up across state lines.

In a cramped office that doubles as a break room kitchen, Grimes is making changes to the Department of Agriculture's investigative team. By next spring, he wants to be able to rattle off numbers of how many crimes were committed and how much Oklahoma's agricultural community has been lost to theft.

Currently, no one knows for sure just how much is lost in agriculture thefts, Grimes said.

Until this year, investigators didn't log the value of stolen timber or missing cattle. The unit also will begin keeping track of what kind of thefts occur, when and where.

Creating a central Web site to report agriculture crimes is also something Grimes wants to put in place in the next few months.

Farmers would be able to send an e-mail detailing a theft and sheriff's deputies also would be able to access the theft reports.

Joe Rector, the lone investigator in Oklahoma with the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association, said, ``There's a lot of cattle theft going on.'' said Rector, who is based in Piedmont.

Right now, investigators with the Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry are seeing in thefts of saddles and other equipment used for horses.

Saddles are snatched from unlocked trailers, or unmanned stalls at horse shows.

All too often, the saddles have little information linking them to their rightful owner.