Months ago when metal prices were at an
all-time high, farmers attempting to irrigate routinely found copper wire
stripped from irrigation pumps, damaging the pumps and costing
hundreds-to-several thousand dollars per pump to repair.
At that point, farmers in Madera County decided to get serious and develop
their own program to encourage people to call in anonymous tips to law
enforcement for reward money for information leading to the arrests. After
posting hundreds of reward signs of their own throughout the county, farmers
in Madera County have now agreed to take part in the Valley Crime Stoppers,
an anonymous tip program that has national and worldwide recognition, with
plenty of successes.
"Madera County is actually a hotbed of ag crime right now in the valley. Our
growers have stepped up with financial donations to fight back," said Julia
Berry, executive director of the Madera County Farm Bureau. "We created our
reward program after the success of a similar structure in a nearby
irrigation district. The district hasn't experienced copper wire theft in
two years after posting reward signs near pumps."
Fresno County Undersheriff Scott Jones, a member of Valley Crime Stoppers
board, addressed farmers at the Madera County Farm Bureau recently, to
educate them about Valley Crime Stoppers, emphasizing that the organization
has decided to make rural crime a priority this year.
"When I came to the Valley Crime Stoppers board I said we need to get out
into the ag community. It is overlooked and it is a $4 billion industry in
our county (Fresno) and they are getting ripped off blind," Jones said. "I
said agricultural crime has come to light for you (on the Valley Crime
Stoppers board) because of metal theft, but you don't realize the crimes
that we experience in the rural areas all year-chemical thefts, equipment
thefts, pump thefts and more. And around harvest season a farmer who has
raisins drying might lose a couple tons of raisins. So they said, OK, let's
make ag one of our priorities."
Valley Crime Stoppers will use donations as reward money, but also to
develop signs and billboards that will go up in rural Madera County. In
addition, the organization partners with local television and print media to
advertise crimes and request tips from the public.
In February, Jones said, Fresno County Sheriff's Department made 77 arrests
from 111 tips that were received through Valley Crime Stoppers. In the urban
area, types of crimes they are receiving tips on include thefts,
embezzlement, assaults, auto theft and drug crimes. Jones said a recent tip
for auto theft also led to the recovery of a stolen tractor.
"Valley Crime Stoppers did a re-enactment on a murder that happened at a
dairy in Chowchilla. The re-enactment was aired and we did receive
information that ultimately led to the arrest of two individuals. That is
the benefit that we get from this, plus all of the media coverage," said Ag
Crimes Unit Detective Dan Kerber of the Madera County Sheriff's Office. "The
program does work."
Rewards for anonymous tips range from $100-$1,000 depending on the severity
of the crime. Since the inception of Valley Crime Stoppers in 1993, over
$500,000 in rewards has been paid and over 5,300 arrests have been made.
Over $1.37 million in stolen property and $49.9 million worth of drugs have
Due to the struggling economy, Jones and other law enforcement officers have
already noticed an increase in the amount of crimes committed, as well as an
increase in the number of people calling the tip line.
"People facing hard times do desperate things," said Ryan Jacobsen, Fresno
County Farm Bureau executive director. "Yes, metal prices may be depressed
now, but it just means that the crooks are going to go after something else
whether that is chemicals, farm equipment or rural stores."
Jacobsen said his county agreed to take part and donate to Valley Crime
Stoppers early this year.
"There was really no other program like this. They have great recognition in
the community and they have a pretty good brand that has been associated
with catching these crooks," Jacobsen said. "I know they've caught everybody
from murderers to metal theft thieves and everyone in between. Arrests are
Madera County Farm Bureau member Mike Shafer, who grows winegrapes and
almonds, has experienced plenty of rural crime on his farm and is very
pleased that the Farm Bureau has decided to pursue this option as a way to
"This is a way for our county to go. They have great name recognition and we
hadn't had much activity doing this program on our own," Shafer said. "It is
good that we are able to join with someone out there that is proven and
One crime that Shafer has been victim of is chemical thefts, which are
common this time of year as farmers prepare the crops for harvest as well as
the fact that metal thefts have slowed.
"Suspicious people were driving through at night, so we contacted the
sheriff and they sent out some extra patrols. Finally we set up some hidden
cameras and it took about one week and they hit us. They took all of the
chemicals and we had them on video," Shafer said. "After we got hit once we
took extra precautions and we made sure everything was locked up every
night. Plus we added more lighting."
For more information about Valley Crime Stoppers, go to
(Christine Souza is an assistant editor of Ag Alert. She may be contacted at