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Stolen Livestock Remains A Problem
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- When livestock are missing, a little-known Mississippi police agency moves into action with local law enforcement officials to recover the animals.
The Mississippi Agricultural and Livestock Theft Bureau within the Department of Agriculture is responsible for working all agriculture-related crimes. Joey Gonce, center director, said cattle are most frequently reported stolen, but horses, swine, poultry, fish, chemicals, equipment and timber are also stolen.
Gonce said last year, 271 cattle were reported stolen throughout the state. Working these 49 cases, the bureau recovered 88 animals, making three arrests. The previous year, 365 head were reported stolen, 134 recovered and four arrests made. In 1995, 351 cattle were reported stolen, 218 recovered and six people arrested for livestock theft.
"There appears to be a slight decline in thefts," Gonce said. High cattle prices sometimes lead to an increase in cattle thefts, but market prices are down now.
Livestock theft is a felony punishable by up to five years in the state penitentiary, a fine and restitution. A second offense can lead to a 20-year prison sentence, plus the fine and restitution.
The Livestock Theft Bureau is brought in by either the owner or local law enforcement when an animal is suspected stolen, Gonce said. Once on the case, the bureau works in cooperation with the local agency, which usually is the Sheriff's Department.
Blair McKinley, Mississippi State University Extension beef specialist, said cattle tend to wander looking for food, so producers can limit this by providing plenty of food and water.
"Most cattle that come up missing aren't stolen, they're just lost," McKinley said.
Producers can take certain measures to reduce the chance cattle will be stolen. These include displaying posted signs that offer a reward for crimes reported, checking cattle regularly and not putting catch pens close to roads. Brands registered with the Livestock Theft Bureau can also help prevent thefts and recover those lost.
"Branding is a permanent means of identifying ownership," McKinley said. "Brand on the hindquarters not the sides because that part of the hide is more valuable."
Gonce said producers should be sure they hire trustworthy employees, as some thefts are internal. Neighborhood watches are as important in the country as they are in town. Keep gates locked.
"Somebody could cut the locks, but don't make it easy for them," he said.
The Agricultural and Livestock Theft Bureau was moved July 1, 1993 from the Mississippi Highway Patrol to the Department of Agriculture. The move was made so that the department could focus on ag-related crimes and leave the investigation of other crimes to other units within the Highway Patrol. Today, the unit has nine armed, sworn field officers whose authority includes making arrests and serving warrants.