Retired officer takes on produce thieves
For more than 23 years, Charles Crawford was on the frontline of the national fight against crime.
Now retired, he is quietly on a mission to crack down on praedial larceny.
The retired police officer operates a unique service that has been reaping dividends for farmers.
At night when most are fast asleep, Crawford and his team are on the beat on plantations across the island protecting crops and livestock.
“I have an organized group of people that I have formed into a unit. This came about three years ago because I saw an article in the newspaper. It was by a man named Richard Armstrong of ARMAG Farms. He said he had a problem with praedial larceny and he doesn’t have anybody to help him,” Crawford said.
Crawford got the job and immediately got down to business.
It is a job most probably would not consider- long, cold nights in the dark, always alert for the unexpected.
“One man would go into the ground from as early as 6:00 p.m. He goes into the field in a covert position and he would patrol the field all during the night with a high-powered beam periodically to stop would-be thieves.”
Crawford says while the cost to framers of praedial larceny is underestimated, it is highly organized crime, wreaking havoc in the agricultural sector.
“Sometimes thieves can come three or four at a time. Sometimes one fellow comes from one direction and he distracts you and when you concentrate on him primarily, you see the ground has been damaged.
“A fellow may come and drop off his people. They go in the ground and they dig potatoes . . . these fellows are able to put away five to ten bags of potatoes on a truck and move quickly.”
The security expert said perpetrators were also using more clever techniques to get the job done and if watchmen were not alert they could be easily fooled.
“What they [thieves] do is that they don’t walk into the field. Some of them crawl, some of them don’t even have the regular agricultural fork, some of them have a piece of steel about six inches in length and they are able to do a lot of damage. If you don’t have the experience of knowing what to look for you will be looking for a person at a particular height, but in actual fact this person is crawling and at the end of the day when you think there is no damage done to the field, you have about five or six rows of potatoes gone,” the former policeman said.
Crawford said his team aimed to deter crop thieves and not confront them.
He is particularly concerned that perpetrators would stop at nothing to reap their ill-gotten gains.
“Not even the danger of being shot by a plantain owner or a armed security officer deters these people,” he said.
One employee shared that the job was challenging but he was not about to give up.
“Confronting thieves at night, some of them are very bold and when you approach them to retrieve the produce they want to attack you for produce they have stolen.”
Praising the recent arrests of five people caught stealing potatoes, Crawford stressed the need for more cooperation from police to send a strong signal to thieves.
He stressed that periodic patrols by police were not enough since thieves were also watching.
“Over a period of time it has been allowed to go unnoticed, and because of that it has exacerbated and guys are beginning to get immune,” he suggested.
While the job is anything but easy, Crawford, who provides services for more than four plantations, praises his men for their hard work and sacrifice.
He believes their efforts, the assistance of police and improved vigilance by farmers have led to a reduction in the number of thefts.
However, Crawford advises farmers not to become complacent and to continue looking out for their interests. In the meantime, he saids his team will be watching.