If you see something, say something - that's the plea from Victoria's farm crime prevention officers.
Figures from the Victorian Crime Statistics Agency show the value of livestock theft totalled more than $2.1million in the 12 months until March 2020.
CSA reported the value of sheep stolen stood at $1.8 million, while for cattle the figure was $232,000. Nearly 250 offences were reported to police, who said the theft of equipment and machinery was also concerning.
Victoria Police Farm Crime Inspector Karl Curran said he didn't think there'd been a spike in crime, due to coronavirus, as the figures remained fairly steady.
"Quite often we see a spike in certain months of the year," Inspector Curran said. "That's when producers do their end-of-year stocktakes or carry out shearing, marking or drenching."
He said there were some parts of the state, predominantly in high sheep production areas, that were of concern. "It's like any crime theme, or trend, the opportunists will go where the volume is," Inspector Curran said.
Criminals who saw unattended sheds containing equipment were also likely to act in an opportunistic fashion, and steal it.
Detective Sergeant Mark James, Hamilton Crime Investigation Unit, agreed thefts appeared to be more prominent at some times of the year.
"It's pretty consistent, each year, but it can be some time before small numbers of sheep that go missing are noticed," Det Sgt James said.
"If you see something that's not right, or is suspicious, tell us at the time - don't wait 12 months," he said.
"Crime scenes can go cold because there is very little left at the scene.
"If something doesn't add up or if you see a vehicle, or people, hanging around, tell us straight away."
Detective Sergeant James said that even if the local officer could not attend, ringing triple-0 would result in a visit by police.
"People in the country have as much right to service from police as people in town; don't feel bad about calling.
"We might not be there straight away but we will get there, as soon as we can."
Police wanted to be "intelligence-driven" in dealing with stock theft, as they were often aware of those who were committing crimes, in a certain area.
"They are known, but there is a reluctance for people to report criminal activities.
"They don't like pointing fingers at people, unless they are 100 per cent sure.
"But if we know who these people are, we would rather target the offenders, than the offence."
Detective Sergeant James said police had significant skills, knowledge and methodology to target people they knew were actively offending.
Crime Stoppers was an ideal method to notify police, as it could be done without having to attend a police station.
He said there was technology to keep a constant track of livestock, but it was expensive.
"I'm hoping it gets cheaper, and farmers can actually use that technology to keep a much closer eye on stock numbers. I think that's where we are headed; at the moment - we are limited by people's ability to count sheep."
Ararat police station's Senior Sergeant Damian Ferrari said police had recently cleaned up a spate of burglaries and thefts of equipment. "We have charged some offenders and, quite often, that pushes the rate down," he said.
He said consistently high prices for sheep saw them targeted, but there had also been ongoing thefts of power tools, generators and small farm equipment.
"We keep trying to get the message out - a lot of these sheds are remote and they need to secure them as best they can. Try and check as often as you can and have an idea about your inventory."
Detective Sergeant Marcus Boyd, Cobram, said coronavirus had seen a slight reduction in crime.
"People don't have a lawful excuse to use when they are out and about casing properties or looking to knock off livestock or farm equipment," Det Sgt Boyd said.
He said there had been a spike in thefts of tractor batteries and machinery in the Echuca area.
"There's still a market for machinery and chainsaws, which are seen as currency by drug traffickers who can easily move that sort of property," he said. Pumps and gates were also a popular target.
"Whether it's livestock or equipment, it's a financial cost that affects the everyday running of the farm."
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