Mississippi victims of timber, livestock or farm equipment theft can call on a special law enforcement agency created specifically to investigate agriculture-related crimes and help recover missing property. Formed in 1993, the Mississippi Agricultural and Livestock Theft Bureau (MALTB), a division of the Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce (MDAC), has a director and nine certified law enforcement investigators who have jurisdiction to investigate agriculture-related incidents and arrest violators. The bureau assists other state and local law enforcement agencies and can bring extra attention to cases that might otherwise go unsolved, says MALTB Director Jeff Stewart. “A lot of times, local sheriff’s departments are so busy working violent crimes,” Stewart says, “they don’t have a lot of time to spend when someone’s equipment or livestock are stolen. But that’s really what we specialize in, agricultural thefts.” Between June 2010 and June 2012, the total dollar value of reported crimes topped $8 million, according to statistics provided by the bureau. Of that, the bureau recovered more than $2.44 million worth of property. During that time period, MALTB investigated 231 agriculture equipment cases, 123 timber cases, 105 “other” cases including hay, feed and seed, 143 cattle and horse cases and many more. But recovery statistics don’t always tell the complete story, Stewart says. Many of the crimes the bureau investigates occur in rural places where there are no witnesses. Some victims don’t notice a crime right away and wait days – even weeks – to report thefts, making it more difficult to recover stolen goods, he says. Bureau investigators provide educational outreach and speak regularly to groups about safety and theft prevention. “A lot of what we deal with are crimes of opportunity, and there are things people can do to prevent them,” Stewart says. “Just be aware of your surroundings and keep a close watch on your stuff.” The bureau handles the registration of all livestock brands in the state and recommends branding cattle for identification purposes. Theft of any livestock, regardless of value, is a felony. Historically, the most common cases the bureau is called on include livestock theft, the shooting of livestock, timber theft, farm equipment theft, saddle and tack theft, and agricultural chemical theft, according to the bureau’s website. In recent months, Stewart says the bureau has worked multiple timber and agricultural equipment thefts. Timber theft is considered a felony if the amount stolen totals more than $500. Thieves have also recently targeted large, commercial zero-turn lawn mowers, he says, adding that the uptick in these thefts is likely linked to the down economy. In October 2012, the MALTB seized stolen property and equipment valued at $268,000 from one individual in Claiborne county. At just shy of 20 years old, the MALTB is still a relatively new government organization. “We’re constantly running into people, even in law enforcement, who don’t know that we exist,” Stewart says. “We’re here to service the whole agricultural community.” To report or provide information regarding an agricultural crime call (800) 678-2660. For more information on the Mississippi Agricultural and Livestock Theft Bureau visit www.mdac.ms.gov.