Battling the rural crime wave

Published: June 2018 | By: Michael Sheather
ecision by the Gates family to swap from Merino sheep to rangeland goats has 
reaped them financial rewards and improved the productivity of their land.
The decision by the Gates family to swap from Merino sheep to rangeland goats has 
reaped them financial rewards and improved the productivity of their land.
Stock stealing, vandalism, break and enter, firearms theft – the crimes committed every day in regional NSW leave a trail of destruction in their wake and holes in farmers’ pockets.
LAST year alone, farmers in NSW lost 2,827 head of cattle due to theft, with a total value of $3 million. They also lost 19,290 sheep, valued at another $1.9 million. That’s almost $5 million in stock losses. And these figures are based on average prices only – they exclude the premium that stud stock attract and the loss of breeding potential. 

Perhaps an even more shocking fact is that an estimated 50% of rural crime goes unreported, so these statistics may be far greater. But that doesn’t mean the crooks are having it all their own way. 

In 2016, the NSW Police launched an innovative rural task force to combat the rising incidence of on-farm crime. In this feature we profile the shocking thefts experienced by landholders and explain how police are helping farmers assess their own security risks. 

“As rural crime is costly and on the rise, preventing it is an integral step to building a long-term prosperous agricultural sector and vibrant regional community,” says Isabella McDougall, NSW Farmers’ policy advisor – economics and rural affairs. 

Police Watch: Case File 

Ross Harvey - Sheep farmer, Ivanhoe, Western NSW 

He’s lost about $400,000 to thieves – but this Western region farmer thinks he knows the solution.

ROSS HARVEY knows better than most the impact of persistent stock theft. During the past four years, he and his family have lost an estimated $400,000 to thieves who have targeted his isolated properties in the Ivanhoe area, Western NSW.

Ross, a sheep farmer who runs the five Ivanhoe properties remotely from his main base in the Riverina, says the thieves started small, taking only a few sheep at a time, but the numbers grew as they realised they could get away with it. 

“We only muster our sheep every couple of months on a rotating basis, so it’s very difficult to keep an eye on numbers. Often if there are only a dozen or so missing then it’s easy to overlook, or to put down to an accident or a few wild dogs. But then we started to notice that we were regularly out by 30 sheep, then 50 sheep and eventually they started to take 100 at a time.

“We were getting hit every couple of weeks, losing 30 sheep one night, 100 another night.”

“At first the police didn’t seem to be all that interested. We even caught one bloke with a trailer and truck on our land, but when we called the police they couldn’t come out because they didn’t have anyone else to man the station.”

Even so, he says, police reactions have changed recently. “The police in our area have really picked up their game in the past few months,” says Ross, who runs about 35,000 sheep over more than 80,000 hectares. “The sheep thieves seem to have dropped off but unfortunately they now seem to be after our goats.

“It’s damned frustrating. I’ve never been a man who puts money before everything else, but when you have to stand by and see the business you’ve spent your life building up for your family stolen away in bits and pieces from under your nose, it’s heart-breaking.”

Ross believes that there is only one solution to stock theft – and that is to give those found guilty of trespass the maximum penalty under the law. “I have never seen a magistrate hand out anything more than a $200 fine,” says Ross.

“If they made the maximum penalty a $20,000 fine and confiscated their vehicle, then they’d stop stock theft right in its tracks.” 

Six steps to foil the crooks

  • Check stock regularly, and always keep all paddocks, sheds and stockyard gates closed and locked. Make sure fencing is secure. Use locking posts to secure and obstruct wide openings. 
  • Locate water points, stockyards and loading ramps away from public roads where possible and away from entry points to the property. Store any moveable loading ramps when not in use.
  • Be aware of strange vehicles in the area. Write down the registration number and description of any suspicious vehicles and pass it on to the police. 
  • Liaise with trusted neighbours. Share information about suspicious vehicles. Let them know when you will be away, so they can keep an eye on your property. Offer to do the same for them.
  • Mark stock with either an electronic device, a tattoo, a brand or a tag that is easily identifiable. Keep a record of all markings. Photograph valuable stock to help with identification by police if they are stolen.

  • Be visible on your property. Leave tyre tracks and evidence that you frequently check your stock and paddocks. 
Source: University of New England

Expansion Plans

The Rural Crime Investigators team is now set to be expanded during the next six months - reflecting how seriously the police and government view rural crime and its impacts on farmers. 

Says Detective Inspector Whiteside: “We are expanding the number of rural crime investigators from the current 34 to 45. That includes eight additional detectives and constables, as well as three detective sergeants who will be based at Parkes, Cootamundra and Moree. Some of the additional officers will be stationed at Deniliquin and Walgett with others at Cootamundra, Parkes and other areas across the state. We are also appointing three data analysts who will provide us with the capability to examine intelligence, to observe patterns and allocate resources more effectively.”

“Criminals shouldn’t think that rural crime is low risk anymore because we are coming after them like we have never come after them before,” says Detective Inspector Cameron Whiteside.  

Crime campaigns 

Shut the gate on illegal hunting: 
A joint initiative between the NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI) and NSW Police, highlighting issues around illegal hunting. It includes a smartphone app allowing hunters to easily request permission to hunt on private land and for landholders to quickly authorise or revoke permission. The ‘Get Permission’ app can be downloaded free from app stores here.  

Operation Trident: 
A multi agency operation to say ‘no’ to black market oysters, supported by the NSW Police, NSW Farmers, the DPI and the NSW Food Authority. Report the illegal harvesting of oysters through Crime Stoppers (see number below). 

How to report rural crime

NON-EMERGENCY       131 444
CRIME STOPPERS         1800 333 000

An online reporting option for non-emergency crime such as theft, vandalism and lost property (including firearms, chemicals and vehicles). Go to community_portal/home.

The state-wide network of NSW Police Force rural crime specialists. To find your local investigator, go to and search ‘rural crime’. 

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