Chief Jerry Flowers and his team of special agents understand farmers and ranchers. That’s why they work so hard to protect them.
Flowers and nine other men make up the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry’s (ODAFF) Investigative Services Unit, which investigates agriculture crimes: livestock theft, agriculture equipment theft, timber theft and wildland fire arson.
The members of the ODAFF Investigative Services Unit are experienced law enforcement officers who have expertise in agriculture. Many of them grew up around livestock or currently live on farms or ranches.
“We understand their life because we live it,” Flowers says. Special Agent Paul Cornett says this is the most rewarding job he’s ever had. “I grew up in the cattle business, so that’s why it’s so rewarding — farmers and ranchers are some of the hardest working people,” Cornett says. “I was a state game warden for 14 years, and that was rewarding, but not like this. This affects society and somebody’s pocketbook.”
Because of high cattle prices and ease of theft, stealing livestock is a hot crime for criminals who need cash.
“Ninety percent of the case investigations we work, we see that illegal use of narcotics is the underlying factor, usually methamphetamine,” Flowers says. “We get involved in everything from narcotics to homicides to anything you could imagine. We stay incredibly busy.”
Every year, the Investigative Services Unit investigates the theft of 1,000 to 1,300 head of cattle, and averages 400 felony charges per year.
Before the Investigative Services Unit was established in 2005, farmers and ranchers relied on local sheriff’s offices to investigate agriculture crimes.
“Our sheriffs’ offices are great law enforcement agencies, but agriculture crime is sometimes not focused on because these agencies are so shorthanded,” Flowers says. “We’re able to come in and devote time to it. Before, that was not something that could be offered by a lot of sheriffs’ offices because they didn’t have the time, resources or expertise.”
Jet McCoy of Ada had 99 head of cattle stolen in the fall of 2013. He called the Investigative Services Unit the morning he realized his cattle were gone.
“I don’t think I could be any more impressed with those guys,” says McCoy, a three-time competitor on the popular “Amazing Race” television series. “Agriculture crimes are different than other crimes and having guys that understand agriculture and the rural lifestyle was huge. They knew what questions to ask, what kind of people they were looking for and where to start looking. It’s really nice to know there’s somebody on your side.”
Recently, the Investigative Services Unit garnered national media attention when it was featured on NBC’s “Dateline.” The segment follows the officers as they investigate the theft of McCoy’s cattle.
Cornett says the biggest benefactors of the media exposure are the hardworking farmers and ranchers who now know there is an agency fighting for them.
“It gets the word out there to the people who need us that there is somebody who specializes in that type of crime,” Cornett says. “It makes you proud of who you work for and proud to work in Oklahoma.”
Flowers says he is thankful to be able to protect people who provide food for the nation.
“Tonight when you sit down and eat dinner, the food on your plate was put there by a farmer or rancher in this country,” Flowers says. “In Oklahoma, we are provided with a law enforcement unit that can focus on protecting that resource. It’s a privilege to do that in this state.”