By Craig W. Anderson 

Senate Bill 224, authored by State Sen. Shannon Grove, R-Bakersfield, now wending its way through California’s legislative bureaucracy, would – when passed into law – create a new ag crime category in the state Penal Code for grand theft of agricultural property, an action that is expected to deter future thefts. 

Agricultural equipment specifically included in the proposed legislation: tractors, all-terrain vehicles, or other agriculture equipment, or any portion used in producing food for public consumption which are worth more than $950 that is stolen is grand theft.

“These losses require time and money to replace, fix, and/or recover the equipment,” said Grove, “and this can result in a complete loss of crops. For smaller operations, this can be career-ending.”

Ferrari says it’s a good idea

“This bill sounds like a good idea,” Jim Ferrari, SJFB president and Linden area diversified farmer said about SB 224  that specifies a fine of up to $10,000 for anyone convicted under the new bill when the value of the equipment taken exceeds $50,000; the fine applies to both misdemeanor and felony convictions. 

Any fines derived from criminal convictions would be contributed to rural crime prevention programs in the Central Valley and the Central Coast.

Fines problematical

“However, I doubt large fines will be collected from some crack-head thief,” Ferrari remarked. “But the jail times may prove to be a deterrent. Any money we can get out of the bums will be a bonus.” The felony-misdemeanor is punishable by up to a year, 16 months or two or three years in county jail.

Considering the county’s extensive drought and the invasion of Nutria, the potential of reducing crime and increasing punishment for it, SB 224 brings a positive potential to the county and the Central Valley’s farmers and ranchers.

CFBF’s response

“By creating a standalone Penal Code section specific to the theft of ag equipment and designating it as grand theft as well, the penalty would remain the same … [while allowing] data collection on a particular type of grand theft for ag equipment,” said Taylor Roschen, CFBF policy advocate. “Farm Bureau supports the legislation … [which] is in response to a growing epidemic of rural crime and agriculture-specific theft.” 

She also said the rural nature of “our areas make it opportune for equipment theft of anything from ATVs… to combines and tractors.”

California among top 10 

According to the National Equipment Register’s most recent crime report, California was fourth among the nation’s top 10 states to experience equipment thefts with 694 – Texas was No. 1 with 2,375 –vmowers and tractors were the most frequently stolen and the summer months had the highest theft numbers of all seasons. California had the second highest rate of equipment recovery – 340 – just after Texas – 372.

County’s crimes

According to the San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Office, the county’s list of crimes finds burglaries No. 1 with items stolen from ag shops, barns, work trucks and utility boxes; No. 2 is equipment theft – ATV’s, RTV’s and tractors – with 132 piece of equipment stolen in 2017-2018 primarily from the Linden, Ripon, Manteca and Thornton areas; No. 3: copper wire stolen from ag pumps and PG&E and other yards; No.4: batteries, all kinds for cars, tractors, heavy equipment and specialty batteries; No. 5: fuel thefts from trap wagons and red-dye diesel from tractors and equipment on farms and job sites; No. 6: commodities – walnut theft – $280,000 worth was taken from a single site last harvest but with the decline in walnut prices, nut thefts have declined.

With all this on the line the county’s agricultural community is looking forward to the reduction in agricultural angst generated by the capital needed to replace and customize stolen farm equipment. Farming is, obviously, weather and market-dependent so delays caused by crime can be devastating, leading to loss of crops, buyer’s left in the lurch, transportation with nothing to transport, workers adversely affected and consumers frustrated.

SB 224’s journey

SB 224 passed the Senate Public Safety Committee by a unanimous vote and it has journeyed to the Senate Appropriations Committee for a decision.

Strong legislation

“This legislation isn’t just a slap on the wrist,” said David Strecker, SJFB’s first vice president, “It’s one more tool in the battery of crime deterrents and it’ll aid the financing of ag/rural crime prevention. In fact, anything that will punish these criminals and get them off the streets and out of our fields is a good idea.”

“California’s rural communities have seen a sharp increase in crime, specifically equipment, metal, crop and mail theft,” CFBF said in a statement. “[This bill] will allow officers to better work jurisdictions to identify criminal patterns and prioritize enforcement activities.”


The California Farm Bureau Federation contributed to this story