Christopher Serju, Gleaner Writer
Policy apathy is helping to fuel the misguided perception that praedial larceny is a petty crime, says Christopher Murdock, commander of the Island Special Constabulary Force (ISCF).
"Police treat it as a soft crime," Murdock said during a recent Praedial Larceny Prevention Workshop held at Mobile Reserve headquarters in St Andrew, and which was attended by policemen and women from across the island.
Noting that in 2002, when the ISCF was given the mandate to deal with farm theft, estimates of the annual loss of agricultural produce stood at $5 billion, Murdock warned of the dangers of continuing to view the activity as petty crime.
"Ladies and gentlemen, do not treat it as a soft crime," he told the participants. "The same praedial larceny thief is the same person who is buying guns and using the same weapons and bullets to shoot at police."
Murdock noted that in cases where a complainant goes into a police station claiming that someone drew a gun on him, the usual reaction is for almost all the police personnel on duty to respond immediately by confronting the accused.
"Everybody wants to leave the station right away," he declared.
However, if a farmer were to report that someone had raided his farm, making off with an entire crop or with livestock, he lamented that the reaction was usually one of indifference.
"You say 'All right, have a seat. I soon send somebody to investigate', and the person will be sitting there until he is frustrated," the ISCF commander admitted. "These are the kinds of reports that are coming from the field in terms of how we are treating praedial larceny."
However, one participant in the workshop argued that in most cases, after the officer had invested a great deal of time into investigating and preparing the case file, the complainant, who very often knew and was sometimes related to the accused, then asked that the matter be dropped.
Murdock directed the participants that in such cases, they should insist that the farmer go to court so the matter could be taken up with the judge.
He urged the policemen and women to follow through by letting the courts decide on the matter, in this way preserving the integrity of their investigation by creating a paper trail from beginning to end and not leaving room for idle speculation as to why the case was dropped.