Crime in rural and agriculture communities is estimated at $5 billion annually, which includes the theft of livestock, equipment, copper wire, seed, chemicals, fuel, and fertilizer. Additionally, vandalism and other forms of property crimes contribute to these losses. The cost of crimes is absorbed by farmers in the form of lost profit, increased insurance premiums or deductibles, and higher costs of doing business. Despite the magnitude of crime in this sector, agriculture-related crime has reportedly received little attention from criminologists and policymakers.
Sheriff Box developed the concept of the Dyer County Farm Watch and serves as the law enforcement liaison.
"As we continued to work with older Neighborhood Watches and added new ones in other areas, I started noticing they began to help prevent crime in their neighborhoods, but there were still lots of vast farmland unprotected in these 536 square miles," said Box. "Even though crime prevention in our neighborhoods was improving, farmers were still being victimized."
"The individuals who are largely responsible for this criminal activity are those involved in the manufacturing and distribution of methamphetamines," said Box.
He added he believes rural agriculture crime in Dyer County is on the decrease due to increased patrols, strenuous investigation of agriculture crimes, use of Neighborhood Watch programs, plus, new technology advances being utilized by the Dyer County Sheriff's Office and area producers. Another factor is Box's department has heavily targeted those individuals involved in the manufacturing and distribution of illegal drugs, particularly methamphetamines.
"These efforts have greatly reduced our crime numbers in the county, but it is an ongoing battle we have to fight constantly," said Box.
According to Brooks, a retired Dyer County Farm Bureau agent who serves as the local Farm Watch chairman, part of the responsibilities of this non-profit group include information sharing, networking with the agriculture community, and securing funds through tax-deductible donations and available grants,
"This will supplement the Farm Watch program and its participants with the best available crime-fighting technologies," stated Brooks.
"Enforcement alone is never the best method, which is why many Dyer County farmers are enthused about participating in the Farm Watch Program, and why this program is garnering support from various agencies such the Tennessee Department of Agriculture Crimes Division Unit, The Tennessee Sheriffs Association, and Tennessee Farm Bureau as a program that can be tailored to individual counties' needs and replicated across the state," stated Brooks.
Tennessee Farm Bureau President Lacy Upchurch stated his appreciation of Box working with the agriculture community in Dyer County. Upchurch noted the Farm Watch program is a novel idea that he believes will reduce rural crime and in particular theft of farm property.
Box also recently presented the Farm Watch program to the Tennessee Sheriff's Association (TSA). Sheriff Terry Ashe (Ret.) is executive director of the TSA and he said Box's program is getting the full support of the organization.
"Sheriff Box brought us a very innovative program to the table, and other sheriffs in rural areas are interested in it," said Ashe. "It's in the early stages but it is a workable plan and we certainly endorse his efforts. We think it helps deter scrap-metal thefts and will help the farmers and we are going to move forward with him on it."
Upchurch agreed with Ashe in that the program can be used as a model for other sheriff's departments to administer.
"Dyer County is building a model that can be replicated across the entire state," stated Upchurch.
Local producers Jimmy Moody and Shane Burchfiel, both victims of wire theft and vandalism, are urging all area farmers to participate in this free program.
"The farming and rural communities cannot sit by idly and be victims of rural crime," said Burchfiel. "It is a smart move to partner with our law enforcement agencies through Farm Watch."
Box says enforcement efforts combined with working relationships developed within the community have made a big difference in the county.
"We want to continue taking advantage of the difference being made and further suppress rural crime through the full implementation of the Farm Watch program," said Box. "By giving a voice to the agriculture community on ag-related crimes, a partnership of working relationships has been formed in order to continue to combat and suppress rural crime through the implementation of the program."
Participation and membership is open and free to all farmers/producers and interested landowners in Dyer County. To sign up for Farm Watch and for more information, visit www.dyercountyfarmwatch.com . Also, Farm Watch committee members urge residents to contact them for more information about the Dyer County Farm Watch program.