Crime doesn’t occur only in big cities. Security is just as important for people who live in rural areas. Outlying and country areas are “statistically” safe, meaning that there is less crime per capita than in the city. Because of this, residents can be lulled into believing there is no danger at alt. In fact, you often hear people who live in the country brag that they leave their doors unlocked in their homes because it’s so safe. When I hear that, I say, “Yikes!” I don’t believe anyone should leave their doors open, no matter where they live. I note that several high- profile crime cases have occurred in rural residential areas; one of the most famous was the subject of the Truman Capote book In Cold Blood.
Rural residents face essentially the same security threats as city dwellers. But those who reside on farms and ranches can also experience theft of crops, livestock, timber, outbuildings, expensive tools, and farm equipment. Most farmers don’t hesitate to brand or tattoo their livestock, but they don’t always think to engrave their driver’s license number onto valuable tools and farm implements, or to take extra precautions with large, expensive machinery. I’ve seen such items left unsecured in the fields at night, and at great risk of theft. Crime rings dealing in farm machinery load the equipment into a tractor- trailer container, haul it to a seaport, and ship it to another country. Once there, the machine is put to work on a farm with out any registration or licensing procedures; where the thing came from is never questioned. It’s a big business, and it amounts to huge dollar losses for farmers. This problem could become bigger, because customs officials have shifted their emphasis even more to watching what’s coming into our country rather than looking closely at things being shipped out.
My father was a farmer, and I grew up farming tomatoes, squash, and beans; for a while we had beef cattle and a few horses. Crime didn’t pass us by. I remember having problems with the theft of gasoline from our bulk tanks, and that was when gas was about twenty-five cents a gallon. A neighbor’s tractor was stolen, and we all experienced crop loss due to theft. People often stop by roadside fields to pick corn, straw berries, even dig up potatoes for their own use, never considering that a farmer’s livelihood comes from those crops. My father and I once heard two men bragging about stealing watermelons from a field. He asked them if they would be openly bragging about shoplifting items from J.C. Penney. “It’s no different.
Those crops you took are money out of a hardworking person’s pocket,” he told them. “That’s nothing to brag about.” Needless to say, the men were embarrassed.
There are special steps rural residents can take for personal and property security. Besides following the home security tips offered above, rural residents should take these additional steps:
Top Ten Tips for Rural Security
1. Use vehicle locator and tracking devices on expensive farm machinery. Such a device recently helped intercept a container filled with farm equipment on a ship bound for South America. The device, placed on a tractor, was able to transmit even through the container walls.
2. Install plenty of outside lights. Consider using timers, photo sensitive cells, or motion detectors to turn them on and off.
3. Trim trees and shrubs so that you can see your property from your house, and likewise see your house from the fields.
4. Make use of signs such as no trespassing, no hunting, and no fishing. You may not care if someone cuts across your property, or if your neighbors hunt and fish, but signs such as these tell people who don’t know you (and who may be interested in stealing crops) that you’re alert and aware of what’s happening on your property. They also suggest that you’re likely patrolling it.
5. Don’t leave keys in farm machinery. This is done all the time. When I was growing up, a Lot of farm machinery didn’t have keys—you simply pushed the starter and off you went. Today, leaving keys in the tractor is just as much an invitation to theft as leaving keys in your car. Don’t do either. If you plan to leave a machine unused for a period of time, I suggest taking the rotor out or turning the fuel supply off so it can’t be driven away.
6. Use sturdy padlocks on farm buildings such as grain elevators, tool sheds, storage bins, and gasoline pumps. Secure heavy equipment together with heavy chain and large pad locks to thwart thieves.
7. Consider installing alarms on expensive farm machinery. Farmers often have alarms on their thirty-thousand-dollar automobiles, but it doesn’t occur to them to install one on their two-hundred-thousand-dollar piece of farm machinery.
8. Use cellular phones or install regular phones in outbuildings. If you’re in the fields and see someone breaking into your house, it can take you a long time to get to a phone if you’re riding a tractor or running. Or if you’re injured in the fields, you could be there for a long time, unable to summon help.
9. Stay in touch with your neighbors. It’s the best way to keep alert to crime in the community, suspicious people or activity, and general information. Often during growing season, farmers get so busy that they don’t keep in con tact. You might not know about security threats if you don’t all help each other.
10. Carefully check references before hiring anyone to work on your farm. Criminals are often drifters—they’ll travel from farm to farm and work the fields because farms historically don’t ask for ID or references from temporary workers. I can count on both hands the number of victims of this I personally know, yet some of those victims still don’t make an attempt to check references.