Combating Suspicious Activity in Rural Sonoma County

Written By: Deputy John Fomasi, Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office
Published: August 1, 2018

Catching bad guys in the act of commuting crimes in rural Sonoma County is a tough task. Criminals look for crimes of opportunity which usually means there is no one around to witness them. Some of the common crimes we see in rural communities consist of illegal garbage dumping, mail theft, fuel theft, theft of tools and farming equipment, and in some cases livestock theft. However, crime in rural areas is not limited. How do we catch criminals if we don’t witness them in the act? This is the age-old question among citizens in rural communities and the Sheriff’s Office.


The main way to prevent theft of tools, farming equipment, and other goods is to keep them locked up and out of sight from criminals looking for an easy grab. We realize this is not always possible or reasonable.


Another thing we preach at the Sheriff’s Office is to be a good witness. Report suspicious activity, including vehicles that appear out of place. Farm Watch programs amongst neighbors are a good idea. Having your neighbors look out for your assets and vice versa can greatly reduce the chance criminals will frequent the area. Reporting persons and vehicles to the Sheriff’s Office gives us the heads up that suspicious activity may be picking up in a given area, leading to increased presence from Deputies.


When you spot suspicious activity and decide to report it to the Sheriff’s Office, gather as much useful information as possible. This includes make, model, color, and most importantly a license plate number of any suspicious vehicles. Report physical and clothing descriptions of any suspicious subjects and what it is they are doing or believed to be doing.


If you need to report suspicious activity occurring in your community, immediately contact Sheriff’s Office dispatch, (707) 565-2121.


When it comes to activity you suspect is occurring that you are not actually witnessing consider using game/trail cameras. These are somewhat inexpensive and can be invaluable in gathering the above-mentioned information related to who is possibly committing these crimes.


The Farm Bureau has graciously provided the Sheriff’s Office with game cameras that we can deploy on a case to case basis to help in our investigations of rural crime. The trick for use of these cameras is being able to conceal them to prevent detection by criminals. We always attempt to find a location in the area of any suspicious activity we are investigating where detection would be minimal. Additionally, we use metal security boxes made specifically for the cameras that can be secured with standard padlocks. We then use a cable lock to secure the camera and lock box to a tree, fence post, etc.


These items can be purchased along with the cameras if you choose to deploy the cameras yourself.


In the past, we have used the cameras provided by the Farm Bureau to assist in the investigation of produce theft from an orchard and fuel theft from vineyards.


Another tool provided to us by the Farm Bureau that can be useful are GPS trackers. Unlike game cameras, GPS trackers are expensive. This limits our deployment of GPS trackers to high profile cases. When GPS trackers are used in an investigation, the risk of detection must be minimal. This can be a challenging task due to the fact these investigations demand hours, and sometimes days of constant investigation. With limited resources within the Rural Crimes Task Force we must wisely choose which investigations we deploy the GPS trackers on.


If you are experiencing increased or on going suspicious activity and would like to discuss options in combating these issues, feel free to call us. We are always more than willing to help in developing a plan of action to curtail the efforts of criminals.


Another useful tool is the application of an Owner Applied Number (OAN). As mentioned in previous articles, OAN numbers are unique, individually assigned numbers to help identify your equipment in the event it is stolen. The OAN program is run by the Tulare County District Attorney’s Office who manage a database that is available nationwide to law enforcement. The numbers can be stamped, etched, painted, branded, etc. While an OAN number will not prevent theft, it will greatly assist law enforcement in returning your property to you in the event it is stolen and recovered. Often times tools and other common equipment get recovered during an investigation, but ownership is difficult to determine. If an OAN number had been applied law enforcement nationwide would know who the property belonged to and where to return it.


If you are interested in obtaining an OAN please contact the Sheriff’s Office Rural Crimes Task Force and we will assist you in obtaining one. If you already have an OAN, but have accumulated more equipment, we will assist you in applying the OAN with our specialized equipment. The same goes for anyone who receives a new OAN. This is a free service provided by the Rural Crimes Task Force.


Feel free to contact us with any questions at (707) 565-3490.

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