Bill seeks to increase penalties for cattle rustling
Updated: Friday, April 12, 2013 2:07 PM
By TIM HEARDEN
SACRAMENTO -- A bill in the Legislature seeks to tackle a menace that conjures images of the Old West -- cattle rustling.
The bill by rancher and Assemblyman Frank Bigelow, R-O'Neals, would increase penalties for livestock theft, which he and California Cattlemen's Association officials say is on the rise.
Bigelow's Assembly Bill 924 would base penalties on the value of the livestock stolen and enable prosecutors to seek jail time for repeat offenders of a minimum of 30 days. Money from fines would go to the state's Bureau of Livestock Identification, which investigates thefts.
"I have had livestock stolen, and I've also had livestock just shot in the field by people who just thought it was for giggles," Bigelow said. "I've kind of experienced it all.
"We've seen an increase in value of 60 percent over the last few years, and we've also seen an increase in theft with the increase in value," he said. "It's tough to make a living in the state of California, so every penny counts when you're putting your efforts into a limited profit."
While some outside the industry may think of cattle rustling as just a fixture of old Western movies and TV shows, it's actually a high-tech activity in which thieves steal significant numbers of cattle and sell them in a black market or alter their brands, falsify inspection documents and sneak them out of state, said CCA president Tim Koopmann, a Sunol, Calif., rancher.
In 2012, the Bureau of Livestock Identification reported that 1,110 head of cattle were stolen -- a value of nearly $1 million, Koopmann said. Recent cases have involved grand theft equating to nearly $40,000, the CCA asserts.
When a ranch loses cattle, it not only loses the animals themselves but any genetic improvements the operation is trying to make in its herd, Koopmann said.
"If people lose replacement females ... it's darn difficult to replace the genetics," he said. "With today's input costs being the way they are, it's awfully difficult to stay in business anyway. When you're putting together a good genetic package ... to lose them through theft is kind of a tough blow."
The bill doesn't just apply to bovines but includes other livestock such as horses, mules, lambs and hogs. It would not extend to other farm commodities such as walnuts, whose producers experienced a string of baffling thefts last year.
The bill was introduced Feb. 22 and has not yet been assigned to a committee. Bigelow believes it will pass with bipartisan support.
"This isn't a partisan issue," he said. "I think we're doing the right thing. When people steal, they ought to go to jail."
Assembly Bill 924
Proposal: Increase penalties for those convicted of livestock theft
Author: Assemblyman Frank Bigelow, R-O'Neals, http://arc.asm.ca.gov/member/AD5/
Supporters include: California Cattlemen's Association: http://www.calcattlemen.org/
Read the bill: http://leginfo.ca.gov/