Reported livestock theft in Victoria levelled out last year, after a sharp jump in 2017, according to the latest Crime Statistics Agency figures.
The figures showed 253 head of sheep, cattle, horses and other livestock were reported stolen in 2018, up by 39 on 2017. That followed a significant increase, between 2016 and 2017, from 135 to 214.
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But the total value of reported thefts from farms jumped by about $1 million, between 2017 and 2018, from $4.930m to $5.933m. The cost of livestock theft, mainly sheep, was up by more than $700,000, with the figure for cattle jumping nearly $250,000.
The most significant number of items reported stolen last year were power tools, up six per cent, from 659 to 701.
Reported thefts of firearms and ammunition again rose; after dropping markedly to 60 in 2017, the figure spiked to 111 last year.
Warrnambool police Inspector Paul Marshall said weapons were often seized from homes during drug raids.
He said livestock theft reporting appeared to be cyclical, particularly for sheep, as farmers mustered mobs for drenching or shearing.
"We would expect the number of thefts would increase, as farmers start shearing," Inspector Marshall said.
He said police were acutely aware of the impact of farm crime, particularly livestock theft, and recently conducted a divisional intelligence probe.
He said officers from stations across the division, which stretches from Colac to the South Australian border and north to the southern Grampians, were recently asked for their input, which was compiled into an intelligence report
"There's a lot of information out there, stuck in people's heads."
He said that information was then used to inform policing tasks, and directions to patrolling officers.
"If they see something that looks out of the ordinary, they're to use their curiosity, intercept that car, and see what's going on.
"They are looking for things which aren't quite kosher, such as cars with trailers, and we'll be less predictable in our rostering.
"That's the only way we can stay ahead of emerging trends and issues."
Officers were also being encouraged further build links with the farming community.
"We have asked our members to really connect with the farming community, to just open up those lines of communication, so they are more inclined to tell us when they see something that's not quite right.
"We can't do it on our own; we are few, but the community members are many."
He said the big thefts were easier to police than one-off incidents.
"It's really hard to get a handle on who the offenders are, as they are not run of the mill criminals, who steal from cars or do house burglaries.
"They are a different type of offender."
Thefts under reported
Swan Hill crime prevention officer Leading senior constable Tania Peters said it was hard to gauge the accuracy of the figures, as she believed there was potentially under reporting of thefts.
"I think the levelling out is a positive thing and I also hope farmers feel more confident, in reporting matters to police," LSC Peters said.
"As police, we are trying to engage with stakeholders, working in the rural sector, such as attending sessions with stock and station agents to built relationships."
"I hope that means greater trust, where we can approach each other and discuss what is happening in our communities."
She agreed education of police officers was important, so they were better able to respond to reports they received.
Southern Grampians police Acting Inspector Di Thomson said there had been an emphasis on training officers in livestock and farm crime.
Farmers were also being educated in preventative measures.
"What you are finding is farmers will be reporting more often, they were reluctant to report, in the past, as there may not have been an adequate response."
She said the district had two agricultural liaison officers and was looking at training more.
'As things go, we realise this is a significant economic issue, and we need to deal with it, not just for the farmers, but also the whole community."
There was an accredited police agricultural liaison officer course, run interstate, which Victoria Police members had attended in the past
"Victoria Police is more than willing to invest in sending members to that course," she said.
She agreed that items such as power tools often turned up when warrants were executed for other crimes.
"We might exercise a drug warrant, and we might find the tools.
"It pushes the figure up, as it is often police generated, but it's a timely reminder to exercise prevention, in securing your farm.
'We're always saying, prevention is better than cure."