More than $1.5 million worth of stolen property has been recovered by the Alabama Agriculture and Rural Crime Unit (ARCU) in its first year on the job.
With more than 50 arrests and 100 cases worked, the unit has proven itself as a valuable tool in the fight against rural crime.
Lt. Gene Wiggins officially took the helm of ARCU June 1, 2013. The officers who make up the special unit were chosen for their investigative skills and agricultural knowledge.
“Our goal is to make thieves and vandals think twice about targeting Alabama farmers and rural residents because they know they’ll have to deal with us,” Wiggins said. “By working alongside local sheriffs’ offices, ARCU provides additional, specialized resources and manpower to help solve these cases and keep rural Alabama safe.”
The unit’s most recent, large-scale investigation was in mid-May and resulted in two arrests. DeKalb County Sheriff Jimmy Harris called for ARCU support when more than 50 cows and farm machinery went missing in the New Harmony and Lebanon communities.
“Everybody in the county was thankful to have the help and that we were able to make the arrests as quickly as we did,” Harris said. “Usually, these cases are hard to solve. But the ARCU agents were up here working day and night — we worked around the clock — and that made the investigation much more efficient.”
Harris said it’s a tremendous help to have investigators who understand the ins and outs of agriculture.
“It makes a big difference to have officers who know what they’re looking for and what you’re working with on a farm,” he said. “With cases that go across county or state lines, we’re limited on how many investigators we can send. Our case load will pile up at the office, so it’s great to have the extra assistance from ARCU.”
As part of the State Law Enforcement Agency, ARCU has access to resources that can help link crimes reported to different branches of law enforcement. That network proved helpful in the investigations of an organized theft ring operating in south Alabama and the Florida panhandle. Four people were arrested in that case in March.
“The best part of this job is in closing a case and letting farmers or other crime victims know we’ve found the people responsible,” Wiggins said. “Our agents are extremely committed to protecting rural Alabama, and we are going to work as hard as possible to make sure criminals are brought to justice. We want to send a message — if you steal from farmers, we will not stop until we find you.”
Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley and Alabama State Law Enforcement Agency Secretary Spencer Collier made the creation of ARCU the first priority in restructuring Alabama’s law enforcement divisions. Before that, the state had gone without ag investigators for two years.
Wiggins said rural residents play an important part in helping deter and solve crimes by reporting suspicious activity.
“When you see something out of the ordinary in your community, call to report it,” he said. “It just might be the tip we need to solve a case.”
To report suspicious activity, call the rural crime hotline at 1-855-75-CRIME. For more information on ARCU, visit ARCU.Alabama.gov.