SB 224 will help law enforcement agencies combat agriculture theft. The bill will create a new section in the Penal Code for theft of agricultural property, which will identify the theft of agriculture equipment, or property including tractors and all-terrain vehicles, as a separate crime. SB 224 will also provide that all fines collected as a result of criminal prosecution of this crime be recirculated back to current agriculture and rural based crime prevention programs. By making agricultural grand theft a separate crime, this would allow law enforcement agencies and law makers to better track this crime all the way through prosecution.
Current law states obtaining property by theft with a value over $950 is grand theft and punishable as a misdemeanor or a felony. If the value of the agricultural property taken exceeds $50,000 then a fine is imposed of up to $10,000.
California first authorized the Central Valley Rural Crimes Prevention Program (Penal Code § 14170) in Tulare County in 1995. It was expanded in 1999 to include Fresno, Kern, Kings, Madera, Merced San Joaquin and Stanislaus counties.
This program, along with the Central Coast Rural Crime Prevention Program which was established in 2003 (Penal Code § 14180) and includes the counties of Monterey, San Benito, Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz, and San Luis Obispo provides participating law enforcement agencies with partners and resources to combat agriculture and rural based crimes. They also allow local law enforcement agencies to effectively combine their efforts in developing crime prevention, problem solving, and crime control techniques, while also encouraging timely reporting and evaluation of these crimes over a larger geographic area.
According to the Tulare County District Attorney’s office, there have been 36 cases of agriculture vehicle theft since 2016. Currently, law enforcement agencies cannot simply separate the aggregate data to easily identify agricultural theft in their analysis of local crime.
The Tulare County Sheriff’s Department has identified there are nearly $1 million in losses of agricultural equipment in 2018. For farmers, losing a $100,000 tractor can be devastating. These losses require time and money to replace, fix and/or recover the equipment and can result in a complete loss of crops. For smaller operations, this can be career ending.
Theft of agriculture equipment not only affects the ability of farmers and agriculture business owners to make a living, it also paralyzes their production of commercial goods in the form of food, textile materials and water.
Through the work of local law enforcement, loss recovery has increased but we need to stop the crime before it happens.
SB 224 would establish theft of agriculture equipment or property including tractors and all-terrain vehicles, as a separate crime. This bill will also recirculate money from fines collected back into existing rural and agriculture theft crime fighting programs that help provide more resources to law enforcements efforts.