Law enforcement agencies have many levels and specializations, from the federal level to the local level.
There are the border police, the fish and wildlife police, the transport police, the airport police, the postal police and even the railway police.
In Arkansas, there is also the agricultural police. And they stay pretty busy.
The law enforcement division of the Arkansas Department of Agriculture works with agencies inside and outside the state on issues related to agriculture. According to Chief Billy Black, the agency exists to help farmers who have been wronged get their money back.
“Our main goal as an agency here is to deliver the producers in their entirety,” Black said. “If we can do it, then we’ve done our job.”
Black is joined by four agents and a few part-time agents to form the team covering agriculture-related crimes statewide.
The agency in 2021 opened 204 criminal cases, with 150 requests for assistance within the department, and closed 133 cases.
Black said the number he is most proud of is $ 609,000 in compensation for victims over the past fiscal year.
“The number that resonates the most with us is the amount of restitution we give back to landowners,” Black said. “It’s money we don’t see. We just make it happen.”
Black said the agency’s training and practice allows him to understand the technical side of law enforcement and gives agricultural producers a resource.
“We can read a sheet of wood or read a barn ticket, when that is not something [local law enforcement investigators] are used to it, “Black said.” I came from a sheriff’s office several years ago, and they’re also overworked and understaffed. So they don’t have time for some of these things that people might consider less of a crime than murder or drugs, but for the producers who have been victimized, it’s still important to them. “
In a statement issued on August 3 by the Department of Agriculture, the department announced in July the guilty verdict of Jay Lee Parker of Waldron.
Parker entered into a one-year deal in November 2017 to care for 433 cattle owned by a Texan family. The following fall, the family discovered that many cattle were missing or died from neglect.
The Arkansas Department of Agriculture law enforcement agency teamed up with the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association Special Rangers to investigate the case, finding Parker had sold 54 head of cattle at the Leflore County Cattle Auction in Wister, Okla., and 29 head at the Waldron Sale Barn in Waldron.
Parker was convicted of two counts of theft of rented or leased property and one count of animal cruelty in Scott County Circuit Court on July 27. Parker will serve a 12-year sentence in Arkansas Corrections and be billed $ 120,000.
Black said many victims of livestock-related crimes were unaware of the agency.
“We are picking up more and more cases of cattle every day because without [exposure], they don’t know we’re here, ”Black said. “If I got a dollar for every time someone said, ‘I didn’t know you all existed,’ I would double my pay in a year. They knew us as foresters [unit] for all time.”
Black estimates that two-thirds of the cases the agency receives are related to forestry.
“Timber theft is going to be the major crime that we work on most of the time, because we started out as a forest law enforcement agency.
In 2018, Governor Asa Hutchinson and Agriculture Secretary Wes Ward, realizing that there was a need for investigators in all areas under the Department of Agriculture, made the Enforcement Division of forest laws agency for the entire department.
Ward said after becoming secretary he heard about cattle rustling in the state quite regularly.
“The Arkansas Department of Agriculture exists to serve our state’s largest industry with an economic impact of $ 21 billion each year,” Ward said. “I started in this role in 2015, and it was not uncommon to hear about livestock theft, equipment theft or arson: a wide range of criminal activity within the industry. agricultural.
As in the Parker case, the agency’s position as part of a state-level department allows it to coordinate investigations with other states.
“This case is another good example where you have some sort of criminal activity and it’s cross-border,” Ward said. “This case, we worked with law enforcement in Texas. We worked with law enforcement in Oklahoma, Mississippi, surrounding states. Have more specialized law enforcement in the area. agriculture really helps us all. “
Deputy Chief Russ Lancaster, left, and Constable Justin Smith, both with the State Department of Agriculture’s law enforcement team, work safe at the Southwest Forest Expo on Friday August 13 2021 at the Hot Springs Convention Center. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette / Staci Vandagriff)