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Farmers helping to dig their own graves - cops

Published:Tuesday | February 19, 2013 | 12:00 AM
Commander Christopher Murdock (left) of the Island Special Constabulary Force looks on attentively as Deputy Superintendent of Police Mevral Smith leafs through a receipt book, that was heralded as one of the lynchpins of the national drive to curb praedial larceny. - PHOTO BY CHRISTOPHER SERJU

Christopher Serju, Gleaner Writer

Farmers continue to lose their shirts in the multimillion dollar criminal enterprise of agricultural theft, but the police say these farmers are contributing to their own demise.

They disregard the system set to catch the crooks and when they are cleaned of their crops and livestock they are not talking, although they know most of the time who the thieves are.

The police, in an ironic twist, are also admitting that they, as well as the judiciary, are part of the problem because they treat praedial larceny as petty crimes - nothing like a homicide which would have them on their toes.

The Island Special Constabulary Force (ISCF) say, however, they they remain committed to the fight against farm theft even though they are hampered by the limited co-operation from victims of this crime. Commander Christopher Murdock argues that by failing to register with the relevant agencies such as the Rural Agricultural Development Authority and using the receipt-book system, they are in fact contributing to the problem.

Since 2002, when it was given the mandate to rein in criminals who have become much more organised in the theft of agricultural produce, the ISCF has been meeting with farmers groups across the island, in order to refine strategies to curb this illegal activity. In addition, it has been holding workshops and other meetings with its members to update them on the relevant legislation governing farm theft. However, the ISCF believe farmers can do much more to help themselves and that in many cases they do, in fact, know much more than they are willing to share with the police.

"How the thief must stay in Kingston and know that your crop of tomatoes is ready for reaping? How can he know where you tie your cow at the back of the house in Clarendon?" the senior cop asked one group of farmers. "You need to help us to do more ... help us to help you."

Anecdotal evidence strongly suggests that in most cases the crimes are orchestrated or carried out by person(s) known or related to the victims. Usually when this is borne out by police investigations the farmer drops the charge, or, in some cases, is intimidated to do so.

However, a lot of farmers have lost faith in the legal and judiciary systems claiming that cases drag on for too long, very often for years and by the time they come to court he/she would have lost much more - by way of the time spent in court - than the value of the goods stolen.

Treated as petty crimes

They also insist that, for the most part, police and judges continue to treat farm theft as petty crimes. Commander Murdock admitted as much during a recent workshop with ISCF members at the Harman Barracks.

"If a man come into the station and say, 'Boss a man just draw a gun pon me down the road' everybody want to leave the station and go find him. However the picture changes dramatically when a farmer reports that someone had raided his farm, making off with an entire crop or with livestock.

"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. Ladies and gentlemen, do not treat it as a soft crime," he told 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."

He also warned farmers that in stepping up their fight the police would be coming down hard on delinquent farmers who refuse to issue receipts for produce they sell, as well as their customers.