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Rural crime impact – and answers

The cost of rural crime in the UK has been estimated at a staggering £39m and many farmers who feel under siege from thieves are now turning their farmyards into fortresses just to protect their homes, families, properties and livelihoods, writes Ken German.

The impact of crime on our rural communities has been devastating to the extent that some farmers are now giving up the profession all together because of continuous thievery.

Most stolen items appear to be tools followed by Quad vehicles. Livestock theft including sheep rustling cost the country £2.2m and agricultural vehicle theft at £5.4m whilst down on 2015 was boosted by the huge theft of Land Rover Defenders which had risen by almost 17 per cent from £1.8m to £2.1m between 2015 and 2016.

Cost of UK rural crime in 2016 was recorded as England £33.8m, Northern Ireland £2.5m, Scotland £1.6m and Wales £1.3m with Lincolnshire being the worst-hit English county with a loss of £2.5m. In the last five years the total loss to the UK for Agricultural crime has been calculated at over £203 million pounds with the blame set mainly on blatant European thieves who now exploit our transport links and can move stolen items into mainland Europe in a matter of hours. The news that theft and fraud figures from the private, commercial and leisure sectors of motorcycling appear to be all heading north at a great rate of knots was undeniably a shock to the government officials and senior police officers attending the UK’s National Vehicle Crime Conference, in Loughborough recently.

Much concern was shown regarding the dramatic changes in the current crime epidemic not helped of course by the continued depletion of police resources. Indeed the prediction of at least a 10% to 20% increase in the theft of machinery on last year and that more motorcycles trikes and quads are now stolen than sold created an agreement for a complete rethink on how the police deal with this type of theft altogether. It was good to hear however that some battles against the thief are being won particularly in technology where the invisible DNA marking systems for instance have shown they are a positive aid to the recovery of machines and their parts. The success of stolen property being recovered using these systems has not only been hailed by the police as a welcome aid in the recovery of property but they now appear to act as a deterrent to theft in their own right.

It is the tracking device however that appears to have broken through as today’s ‘most wanted’ piece of technology desired by paranoid owners who simply wants their tractor or quad returned quickly after theft. With tracking companies offering a 90% recovery rate and promising that speedy return these clearly appear to be the crime prevention devices to have.

The tracking device has been around for some time and whilst there are quite a few ‘cheap’ self-monitored systems available from the internet that may help you trace your property if it’s been dumped somewhere locally, it’s still likely that actually recovering it could be rather difficult.
Most of the today’s subscription-based 24/7 tracking companies immediately notifies their base the moment a piece of machinery is moved without the keys in the ignition. It’s then they will contact the owner, check that it’s not still in their possession (for instance, if they forgot to deactivate it), then immediately begin tracking it. The companies support staff, many of who are former police officers are then deployed to assist local police in seizing the machine or gaining access to where the tracker indicates it to be. That appears to be the requirement nowadays as there are no rights to enter private property without police help and dependent on the circumstances a warrant may be necessary.

The technology behind these devices often referred to as ‘GPS trackers’ is varied and there are several types each offering their own advantage.
The majority of subscription-based tracking systems currently on the market today use cellular communication to talk to a server when the craft goes into an alert state (for instance, if shaken). Others check in only at various programmable times of the day, at which point the device then updates its location. Many suspicious thieves already shake an item to see if it has an alarm fitted and it’s becoming more common for them to do the same and use a cellular communication detector to ‘look’ for a tracking unit; a few trackers can prevent this. Potentially, thieves however can ‘listen’ for a tracker talking or making cellular communication with its base and jam its data stream using the right technology.

The GSM cellular tracker is a unit with an inbuilt SIM card that sends and receives texts or data to and from a server using the Global Systems Mobile communications network hence GSM – the same as a mobile phone and it can be used simply to triangulate an approximate position of the machine. The GPS system uses satellites and a tracker with Global Position System (GPS) technology can pin-point the location of a machine to within three to four meters. The cellular network is used to transmit its location to base but it is unfortunately more easily blocked than the GSM device. The RF Beacon or Radio Frequency (RF) tracking is only effective up to around a mile or so at best, depending on the terrain. When coupled to a tracker it’s the monitoring staff that will triangulate the crafts position using GSM. It then becomes possible to home in on the beacon using a radio receiver. This short range tracking system is the most accurate location method but it can be hampered by being blocked in or hidden, inside a shipping container for instance.

The RF beacon also allows the tracking company to be almost certain a stolen item is inside a property, making it far easier for officers to obtain a warrant. Without a warrant, police cannot legally enter a private property without the consent of the owner, or unless the owner of the property has been arrested.

Some tracking devices need to be wired into a machines wiring loom whilst others are portable and can be moved from one item to another. Some successful tracking devices – Tracker, CanTrack and Bike Track. Trackers wired into a machine generally need a live and neutral to the battery, along with a switched feed from the ignition, so the unit knows when the key is being used. Most will have a back-up battery, should the wiring be disconnected, and in this case, many trackers will go into alert mode by default.

Portable passive devices have no impact on the use of any machine it’s fitted to unless of course you activate one of the sensors. It needs little management and you won’t need to change any settings or notify the company when travelling abroad or if it’s in an enclosed area. There’s little need to ‘manage’ the device at all, so it’s pretty much a fit and forget system. One advantage of the passive device is that a lot of stolen items are now moved and left whilst scanning equipment is used to see if a tracker is fitted to it. Portable passive units are not communicating at all or only at a predetermined time and therefore may not be discovered.

Whilst a trackers signal can be blocked by sealed metal containers, many will still work if the property is inside a van for instance. Accurate and immediate tracking can at least trace the properties movements to the last visible position, which could be enough as a starting point for RF detection.
If they are hidden under metal it restricts the performance of their GPS/cellular transmitters and it may be advisable to use an ‘extended’ GPS antenna for increased accuracy. Clearly the companies’ support teams play a big role in recovering property and when an RF beacon tracks a stolen item the team members can monitor its location until the police are able to attend. As nowadays police resources become increasingly stretched, this has become a major selling point.

The question of whether to alert or not to alert an owner of movement at the machine is a frequently asked one. The disadvantage of not alerting the owner or the tracking company of movement of the property is that theft won’t be notified until the owner discovers it. If the device has its motion sensing turned on all the time however it would cause a significant drain on the battery and its signaling life could be short, as it would be communicating all the time.

Motion detection however can be enabled during a single period each day or it could be set to motion sensing which wouldn’t necessarily add additional battery drain unless it was triggered by which time the device would be communicating with its base. In essence if you are buying a tracking device for any of your machinery then do your research on the manufacturer and as long as the device has GPS, a VHF homing beacon and an effective 24/7 support team and the cost is agreeable then if you do become a victim of theft this year then you have a good (9/10) chances of it being recovered.

Pictured: Bideford, Devon.


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