Cowboy Cops: Oklahoma investigative services outride the outlaws
By Lacey Newlin, High Plains/Midwest Ag Journal
Feb 4, 2019
“While I was in the gang unit and working a drive-by shooting, usually that day’s victims were tomorrow’s suspects,” said Jerry Flowers, chief agent of Investigative Services with the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry. “Additionally, law enforcement were often unappreciated by most of the people they tried to help with those types of crimes.”
However, working agriculture crime is a different story now that Flowers has retired from the Oklahoma City Police Department and now heads investigative services for ODAFF.
“I drive up to a farm or ranch because of a theft and meet an old boy in a pickup truck with five months’ worth of dirt and grime on it. There are feed sacks on the bed, sorting sticks on the dash and the floorboards are covered with cubes. He steps out in bib overalls—dirty from head to toe—and reaches out to shake my hand with a dip of Skoal in his mouth. I notice his hands are worn, dirty and calloused, but they’re strong. He thanks me for being there and the satisfaction is overwhelming because this man has worked hard all his life and I am bound by duty to work just as hard to help him resolve his problem.”
Rustling with the wrong lawmen
“Agriculture in Oklahoma is a 60 billion dollar-a-year business and rural crime is huge,” Flowers said. “It’s not anything new and no one anywhere in any corner of this state is immune to it.”
ODAFF Investigative Services probes agriculture crimes such as cattle theft, equipment theft, arson wildfires and timber theft. Cattle theft is a major problem in the United States and particularly in Oklahoma because it is not a brand law state.
“Ever since cattle were introduced into the U.S. in the 1400s, people have been stealing them,” Flowers said. “We will investigate an average of 1,500 head of reported stolen cattle each year in our unit alone. At times, we have gone up to 3,000 head a year.”
In fact, ODAFF had gotten to a point where cattle theft was such a problem, it chose to enhance the restitution portion of the penalty phase for those convicted of cattle theft. Convicted cattle rustlers now have to pay back three times the value of the animal to the owner if investigative services is not able to recover them.
The most obvious, yet vital, piece of advice Flowers can give cattle owners is to brand their cattle.
“A brand on your cow is like a tag on your car,” he explained.
He says some ranchers do not take the time to brand but hope an ear tag will be able to identify their animals in the event they are stolen or lost.
“Ear tags in your cattle are for you, the owner,” Flowers said. “If outlaws steal your cattle, the first thing they remove is that ear tag. But they’re not going to peel a brand off.”
He also recommends ranchers register their brand with the Oklahoma Cattlemen’s Association to make it easy to recognize and trace back to the owner if cattle are lost or stolen.
Additionally, he recommends ranchers check cattle often because the sooner animals are reported missing the easier they are to locate.
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