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Metal thieves hit Eastern Wash. farms

The Grant County Sheriff's Office is reaching out to Moses Lake, Wash., area farmers for information about a string of metal thefts from farm property.
Matthew Weaver

Capital Press

Published on July 15, 2014 9:14AM

Eastern Washington farmers are advised to protect metal on their property from a string of thefts in the area.

The Grant County Sheriff’s Office, based in Ephrata, Wash., is reaching out to area farmers after five recent thefts of steel and aluminum livestock corral panels from Moses Lake, Wash., area farms and ranches. According to the agency, the losses total “thousands of dollars.”

People steal the metal and then take it to recycling centers to sell for cash, Kyle Foreman, public information officer for the sheriff’s office, said.

“The people that are doing this are usually going out and buying drugs and participating in other illegal activities,” Foreman said.

State law requires metal recycling businesses to get identification from the person trying to recycle the metal. The business must take an address to send the person selling the material a check roughly 10 days after the sale.

“That gives the recycler some time to do some investigating to find out whether or not the person who sold the metal actually was the rightful owner,” Foreman said.

Thieves try to circumvent the law by selling to unlicensed metal recyclers or finding licensed metal recyclers elsewhere who may accept the stolen metal against the law. Grant County recycling businesses are good participants, Foreman said.

Foreman said the thefts happened in rapid succession from rural farms, targeting anything not chained or bolted down, including livestock panels used for corrals and moving livestock into corrals or up into trucks.

“They weren’t secure, they were in a rural area and the thieves just came by, stacked them up and took off with them,” Foreman said.

Foreman said the sheriff’s office is following up on leads to investigate the crimes.

If a farmer comes across a theft in progress, they should immediately alert the authorities.

“We know there are people who are tired of being ripped off and may feel an urge to take the law into their own hands,” Foreman said. “We discourage them from doing that. The best course of action is to call 911 and have the police come out and catch the suspects.”

Farmers should get descriptions of the people and their vehicle, and note which direction they travel.

Several sheriff’s deputies are ranchers and farmers, Foreman said. They can estimate the cost of a loss due to theft through their personal knowledge.

“Having deputies who farm and ranch also provides us with a direct link to other farmers and ranchers so we can help stop these crimes together,” he said.

Thieves steal other property which they may use in trade with other thieves or drug dealers, Foreman said. The agency has recovered other items during property theft crimes, including stolen jewelry, collector coins, stolen vehicles and heavy equipment.

The sheriff’s office continues to provide recyclers with a list of people convicted of crimes who are prevented from selling metal for a period of 10 years, Foreman said.

“The community still needs to take protective measures for themselves to prevent the metal theft from happening in the first place,” he said.

The agency’s recommendations include:

• Park machinery out of sight of roadways.

• Mark property with paint color, or combination of colors, to help investigators identify the property once it is recovered. Ensure all pieces of equipment are marked with an identification mark.

• If irrigation equipment is in operation, check it frequently and at random times to ensure it is still where it is supposed to be.

• During a breakdown, return the equipment to main farm yard area, if possible. Too often farmers attempt to repair the machinery in the field and leave it unattended while obtaining replacement parts, only to return and find other components missing.

• Maintain an inventory with the description, serial number, chassis number and model numbers of equipment.

The agency also recommends forming a Neighborhood Watch in rural areas.

Anybody with information about the thefts should contact the agency at 509-762-1160 or crimetips@co.grant.wa.us


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