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Farmers urged to report water theft and fraud to Rural Crime unit

Edwina Mason29 February 2020
Drought in Australia

NSW Police are calling on farmers to report water theft. Photo: File.

Illegal hunting, trespassing, and theft of stock, produce and equipment from rural properties is usually the focus of the Southern NSW Police Rural Crime Prevention Team, but last week they set their sights on water.

After several months undertaking damage assessments in fire-affected communities, the 17-strong team of investigators met last Thursday (20 February) in Goulburn for a debrief that will inform their planning for the next 12 months.

Amid annual and strategic operational planning, water theft came into play, something Riverina District Commander Superintendent Bob Noble says is very topical.

“It was the first time we spoke as a group about water theft and water fraud, and it was a really good and interesting discussion,” he said.

A region bordered north by Goulburn, Cootamundra and Young, south by Albury, across to Cooma, east to Batemans Bay down to Bega and west to Griffith and Deniliquin, Superintendent Noble said the considerable river network combined with substantial irrigation systems to the west justified their attention.

The team will focus on “the illegal pumping of water and/or fraud associated with trading of water or other forms of making money, where there shouldn’t be money, out of water”.

“It’s something we want to have a think about and a close look at.”

To this end, the team works in conjunction with partner agencies like the NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI), the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), Murray Darling Basin Authority, user groups and individuals.

“It’s a complex thing and our little corner of the puzzle is law enforcement – that’s the bit we’re interested in,” he explained.

For farmers or individuals aware of any criminal activity in relation to water – even the theft of water from tanks – the message is clear: report it to police.

“I think people just don’t think of police for things like that, and a constable who doesn’t take many reports like that might scratch his or her head for a few minutes but hopefully they’ll pull their notebook out and start investigating it,” Superintendent Noble said.

An ongoing area of priority in 2020 remains livestock theft and addressing hesitancy to report criminal activity.

“I think with the strong livestock prices will result in plenty of people happily looking for opportunities to thieve stock,” he said.

“We’ll be doing a fair bit of work around saleyards and transport of stock.”

Southern NSW Rural Crime investigators

Southern NSW Rural Crime investigators met last week to determine 2020 priorities, with water and livestock theft high on the list. Photo provided by Southern NSW Rural Crime Prevention team. Photo: Supplied.

Again, Superintendent Noble highlighted reliance on the community to assist.

“We do face reluctance amongst people in communities to report things and we want to overcome that because if someone’s loading up three decks of sheep that aren’t theirs and taking them off at some point, no one person can do that on their own and a further four or more people are involved,” he explained.

“You generally can be confident those three or four have told others – and those are the people we want to get to, we want them to tell us what they know because everyone knows it’s wrong.”

Superintendent Noble said the contribution of farmers to the social enrichment of regional communities was not to be underestimated.

“A lot of people are doing it hard with the drought – and we’ve got to look after these people,” he said.

“I’m not saying they’re more important than anyone else but they should be looked after as well as anyone else.”

In place since March 2018, the state-wide Rural Crime Prevention team now boasts 42 police officers based in Cootamundra, Casino, Parkes and Moree, with an additional 18 investigators to swell the ranks over the next three years.

According to Superintendent Noble the southern team is seeing results they haven’t before.

“We feel the reporting’s going up which may seem like rural crime is increasing – but what that indicates to me is there’s a lot more reporting and I think that captures the true picture a little bit more,” he said.

“We still have a long way to go. We find that people don’t want to call the police because they don’t want to be a bother or they think we don’t have the ability to do anything about it. In either case, we want to do better than that. We want to prove to people it’s worth their while to report and we’re trying to get more on the bullseye,” he said.

“We don’t always get it right but we’re always trying,” Superintendent Noble said.

To report criminal activity, contact your local police station or call CrimeStoppers on 1800 333 000. For information on preventing crime in rural areas, visit download the Tackling Rural Crime Handbook from NSW Police.

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