Rural crime is tough to solve, but a special highway patrol unit is making a difference

Most of us consider the countryside of Missouri safe, crime free and tranquil. However, in the past 10 years, more than $13 million in stolen property and equipment has been recovered by a little known unit of the state Highway Patrol — the Rural Crimes Investigation Unit (RCIU).

Missouri’s leading industry is agriculture, so it makes sense there would be a unit reserved just for rural and agricultural crime. According to the National Agricultural Statistics Service and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, in 2012 there were roughly 99,171 farms in the state of Missouri, second largest number of farms in the United States.

Rural crime has a huge impact on a large part of Missouri’s population and economy.

The RCIU was formed in 2009 to address the rising incidents of crimes related to agriculture. This could include animal cruelty, equipment theft, fuel theft, property damage, arson, or even fraud. The unit is composed of 10 investigators and one crime analyst.

“The RCIU focuses solely on the investigation of crimes unique to the agriculture industry and farming communities within Missouri,” said Sergeant Shawn Griggs of the Missouri State Highway Patrol.

In just 10 years, $13 million recovered is a pretty good success rate, but there are many challenges when it comes to solving these crimes. Sometimes there are long delays of a crime being reported to law enforcement, or it goes unreported altogether. There are limited law enforcement resources dedicated to thefts. Sergeant Darrin Haslag has been working for the patrol for many years.

 “Rural crimes can be difficult to investigate because the crimes may be spread out over several counties, states, jurisdictions, and departments,” Haslag said.  “We work to combat that by coordinating investigations between agencies, providing information on rural crime trends, and working with undercover officers to develop leads.”

Along with assisting law enforcement agencies statewide, the RCIU serves to educate other law enforcement officers and civilians. They do this by having community seminars, post-accreditation training, email alerts, and in-depth crime trend bulletins. When educating the public, the RCIU works to help them understand how to be better at crime prevention.

Some crime prevention tips they offer are to record any suspicious vehicles by writing down their license plate, and to remove keys from equipment. Lots of farmers leave the keys in their equipment expecting nothing to happen, and this makes it easy for people to just start up the machine and take it. They also suggest people keep a record of past employees, visitors, and service personnel because often the thief is someone who has been to the farm or property.

Sargent Scott White, public information officer for the Missouri State Highway Patrol, says the RCIU plays an important role in public safety.

“If a bank gets robbed for $5,000, the FBI is called,” White said. “If a farmer gets a $50,000 tractor stolen, one officer is sent to take a report. We owe it to our agriculture community to put as much effort into rural crimes as we do any other type of theft and robbery.”

This is what the RCIU is all about. Instead of leaving the investigation the the county sheriff, the RCIU can provide additional investigative skills by actively investigating alongside rural law enforcement agencies that have reported the crime and requested help.

The RCIU can be reached via its Tip Line at 888-484-8477 and also by email at ruralcrimes@mshp.dps.mo.gov.

Chloe Wilson

About the Author Chloe Wilson

My name is Chloe Wilson and I am a freshman at Mizzou pursuing a degree in Agricultural Education and Leadership. I transferred here from Northwest Missouri State University, and although this is my first semester as a Tiger, I am loving it so far! I love the endless opportunities that are provided here, and even though this campus is huge and can be incredibly overwhelming at times, being a part of CAFNR has already made me feel more at home. Although I don’t know exactly what my career will look like when I graduate, I have a good idea that it will involve advocating for farmers or working in policy. I am excited to be writing for CAFNR Corner Post because I know it will provide me with the opportunity to expand my knowledge of agriculture and improve my writing skills. I am looking forward to the great semester ahead!