The State Highway Patrol’s new Rural Crimes Unit wants Missourians to be on the lookout as crimes in rural areas are on the rise. 

Sgt. Jason Clark says an increase in thefts is one of the reasons the Highway Patrol pursued the stimulus finds to create the 10-officer unit. The officers started working statewide after the Highway Patrol secured $3.4 million in grant money last September. He says more people have probably turned to these crimes during the down economy. 

“A lot of these crimes are occurring in very remote sites and they’re easy targets, or easier targets,” Clark said.

One common target is anhydrous ammonia that many farmers keep in tanks in their fields. That fertilizer is often stolen to be used to make methamphetamine.

“Anytime that you can more secure those tanks are put them in areas that aren’t going to be so readily available to those folks that are stealing that chemical, then that’s certainly going to help,” Clark said.

He says thefts of materials like copper piping for scrap are common, but so are thefts of livestock. Clark says many farmers keep their cattle in old, unsecure fencing near roads.

“It doesn’t take a lot for somebody who is very knowledgeable in the handling of cattle to drive in and pick up 15 or 20 head of cattle, and that’s a substantial amount of money,” Clark said.

Clark says, fortunately, the officers on the unit are also very knowledgeable when it comes to agriculture and rural communities.

“They’re law enforcement officers that have grown up in that type of environment it certainly makes it a lot easier to gain trust from the farming community,” Clark said.

The unit works with local authorities when those cities or counties contact them for assistance.

“Obviously law enforcement would always respond to these calls when they came in, but now we have folks that are very knowledgeable of the environment and the ag business itself and certainly have a certain amount of expertise,” Clark said.

The unit can also be contacted by citizens directly through a hotline at 1-888-484-8477.

AUDIO: Ryan Famuliner reports (:63 mp3)