Criminals who strike farms, homes and businesses in rural Alabama are in the cross hairs of an elite group of law enforcement officers taking aim at country crime.
Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley and Spencer Collier, secretary of the newly consolidated Alabama State Law Enforcement Agency, are expected to announce creation of the Agriculture Rural Crimes Unit (ARCU) this summer.
“There is no doubt there’s an increase in rural crime,” Collier said. “I hear it everywhere I go. It’s big on the governor’s list, and it’s big on my list.”
Collier praised work done by local law enforcement officers throughout the state, adding that the ARCU won’t replace sheriffs’ and police departments. Instead, it will enhance and reinforce their efforts, he said.
Gene Wiggins, a veteran Alabama State Trooper, will lead the ARCU. Collier said Wiggins was chosen for his extensive law enforcement training and experience, along with his passion for rural Alabama.
“I grew up in a farming community, and there aren’t any better, harder-working people in our state,” Wiggins said. “We want them to know we are aware of the difficulties they face, and our goal is to protect them and their property. We will use traditional investigative skills with the very latest technology to solve crimes.”
The ARCU will use the Alabama Fusion Center, which is responsible for gathering tips and suspicious activity reports. The reports are analyzed and information is provided to Alabama law enforcement and homeland security officials, first responders, private sector security personnel and other stakeholders.
“If someone sees a crime, they still need to call 911 and report it to their local law enforcement,” Wiggins said. “But if they see something suspicious or out of place in their community, we want them to report it to the Fusion Center.”
Suspicious activity can be reported by calling a toll-free number that will be announced by ARCU. Comments also can be made at the unit’s website at ARCU.Alabama.gov.
The seven officers in the unit live across the state, providing a network with local law enforcement officers.
ARCU is headquartered in offices at the State Farmers Market, 655 Federal Dr., Montgomery, Ala. In addition to investigations and arrests, the unit will include an educational component, Wiggins said.
“We will be working with organizations like the Alabama Farmers Federation, Alabama Cattlemen’s Association and other farm groups to educate their members and the public about crime prevention and observation skills that could be vital to our investigations,” Wiggins said.
Federation President Jimmy Parnell said the creation of the ARCU benefits farmers and Alfa Insurance.
“Theft, vandalism and other rural crimes cost farmers and businesses time and money,” Parnell said. “Claims related to these crimes increase the cost of insurance for all policyholders. We appreciate Gov. Bentley and Secretary Collier for making rural law enforcement a priority. This unit will help keep Alabama from becoming a haven for cattle rustlers and equipment thieves.”