Dist. Atty. Michael D. Bradbury is pushing state lawmakers for $2.5 million to create a 10-county task force to focus on solving agricultural crimes that cross county lines.
The Central Coast Rural Crime Task Force would include Ventura, Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, Monterey, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, San Benito, San Mateo, Alameda and Contra Costa counties. Funding would pay for each county to hire up to two sheriff's deputies, a prosecutor and a prosecutorial investigator to focus on rural crime.
Legislation to set up such a task force has been introduced by Assemblyman Tony Strickland (R-Thousand Oaks).
Tom Connors, a deputy district attorney specializing in agricultural prosecutions in Ventura County, said the Legislature already has backed similar programs elsewhere in the state.
"Modern criminals, nowadays, are aware of the problems we have with county lines," Connors said.
"Last year, we had a irrigation pipe theft just below the Conejo Grade, about $80,000 worth. What we found out was the people who stole it lived in Riverside County, rented a U-Haul truck in Orange County, came down here, stole our pipe and then went back to L.A. County and sold it at a recycling center.
"There's people who will go from county to county, buy crops from farmers on credit and just disappear. If the counties don't have a multi-jurisdictional approach to fighting crime, nobody knows what anybody is doing."
Ventura County already has assigned a prosecutor and two deputies to fight rural crime. But without designated officials in surrounding counties, the county's enforcement reach is limited, Connors said.
A statewide rural crime task force exists, but meets only four times a year. Connors said a Central Coast task force would meet once a month, and would correspond more frequently by telephone and e-mail bulletins.