Thieves from California farms are rising as many grants for rural law enforcement have withered, the New York Times reports. While other states have their own agricultural intrigue — cattle rustlers in Texas, tomato takers in Florida — few areas can claim a wider variety of farm felons than California, where ambushes on everything from almonds to beehives have been reported. Then there is the hardware: diesel fuel, tools, and truck batteries regularly disappear in the Central Valley, the state's agricultural center, where high unemployment, foreclosures, and methamphetamine abuse have made criminals more desperate, officials say.
“All of our ag crimes are up,” said Sgt. Walt Reed of Bakersfield, who oversees a unit of two full-time detectives — down from three a year ago — patrolling a county eight times the size of Rhode Island. A wet winter and warm summer have meant healthy crops, andd a healthy market means happy thieves. “And if it's doing well here,” Reed said, “there's somebody looking to steal it.” Counties up and down the state also are dealing with a surge in copper theft — a perennial problem made all the worse of late by the soaring price for the metal.