A cops point of view.
Cops like nothing better than to recover
people's stolen property and find suspects. Unfortunately, though,
people often add to a cop's workload by actually helping thieves steal
their property. How? The property isn't marked or positively
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Horse theft has become big business. Why? It's easy and there is
minor risk to the thief. Take a look at the horses you know. How many
of them are marked or branded so that their owner can positively
identify them? It's a major problem for law enforcement officers to
track property that isn't clearly and unmistakably marked. How does the
officer know the right horse has been located?
surprising to many citizens to learn that law enforcement officers
can't just go onto a person's property and 'take a look' when we get
vague reports of an animal that 'might' be the stolen horse. Just
comparing a picture of the stolen horse to the actual animal might not
be enough to return the horse to its owner. Many other elements must be
considered. The responsibility falls to the owners to provide absolute
proof that the horse belongs to them.
In recent cases
involving horses, I have found that owners do not have their horses
marked at all, or they have only marked them in one way. Several
widely-acceptable methods are available: branding and/or freeze
marking, microchipping, and tattooing. Microchipping is great, but
don't stop there. Average cops don't have portable scanners to detect
the chip. Tattoos are also useful, but what if the law enforcement
officer doesn't know where to look for the tattoo? My personal opinion
is to mark your animal in at least two ways. Think about it this way:
If there are two horses in a pasture, and one of them is clearly
branded, which one do you think a thief is going to take? Thieves are
only interested in financial gain and avoiding capture. The branded,
identifiable horse is undesirable to a thief hoping to get some quick
Take pictures of your horse from all four sides. Take
close-ups of identifying marks and anything that can help identify your
animal. Further protect your horse by a freeze mark or brand.
say I'm on patrol, and I stop a truck pulling a livestock trailer. If I
see a brand on a horse and have received information from the crime
computer or a radio broadcast about a particular brand, and there's a
picture of it, I'm going to take a closer look. But the brand alone
might not be enough to take the animal. However, if I know there's a
tattooed number on the upper lip and that also matches, those two
elements give me a whole new ball game. Now we might just have a happy
ending. The horse goes back to the owner and the criminals go where
Today, the average value of a horse
exceeds most states' limit for felony property crimes. That means the
act of stealing a horse constitutes a felony crime. Many states will
enter a horse's tattoo number into their criminal computers. That means
a cop of the street can radio in a tattoo number (which is treated like
a serial number) and learn that the horse has been stolen from several
Naturally, there are downsides to every
system of marking horses. Tattoos can be removed and brands can be
altered. That's why I stress the importance of using at least two
methods to mark your horse. You have a better chance finding your
animal if it is lost or stolen.
No, our system isn't
perfect. Criminals are always looking for ways to beat the system. But
you, the citizen, must bear some of the blame for their success. If
your car is stolen, you can provide the vehicle identification number
or the license plate number to the authorities. If your wallet or purse
is stolen, you can tell the police your Social Security number or date
of birth. These are positive means of identification. How are your
I often hear that some people have
the opinion that cops don't care about stolen animals. That might be
true in some places. But, when they do care, if you've taken no
precautions to protect your animals, is it the cops' fault if your
animal isn't recovered? Cops can't just wave a magic wand and find your
Take the steps necessary provide us the
information we need to do our jobs. Law enforcement officers are
professionals. We know our laws and the standards we must meet for
recovering animals, but you need to help by giving us the tools to do
our job. If you see a picture and call us to say "Hey, that's my
horse," do you think that is enough for us to give it back to you?
Sorry, folks, but it isn't, under most states' standards. You must
prove it is your property or we must prove it for you. That job is
easier and more effective if you have given us tools to work with.
saying "That's mine" doesn't work anymore. Sometimes when animals are
stolen, they are moved great distances from home. This makes recovery
even harder without the proper tools.
So, what I am
suggesting is do your part. Make sure you are within in the law of your
home state for whatever kind of marking process you choose. Some states
may be different branding regulations. Contact your State Department of
Agriculture to ensure you follow the proper guidelines for branding or
freeze marking your horses. Or, contact the Federal Department of
Agriculture for assistance if need be. Whichever way you choose, be
sure to do something.
People don't realize how many laws
can affect them with their animals. My next suggestion is learn the
laws of your state as they apply to you and your animals. I'll have
more comments on this topic at a later date. For now, take these steps:
- Mark your animals, preferably in as many ways as legally possible.
- Take detailed photographs of your horse.
- Keep the records of the brands or markings, and locations
of where they were done, and by whom.