The following is a portion of an article by Jon Herskovitz and Heide Brandes
Cattle rustling, a crime associated with the Wild West, is on the rebound in the heart of the U.S. cattle industry, driven largely by ranch hands stealing livestock to get money to feed their drug habits.
The crime has evolved from rustlers on horseback driving their plunder across the range, often portrayed in the early 1960s U.S. TV program “Rawhide,” to modern-day cowboys using pickup trucks and trailers to make off with cattle.
The recent rise in rustling is driven by the spread of heroin and methamphetamines to rural areas, an issue that has dogged states across the nation. In Oklahoma and neighboring Texas, lonesome cattle grazing on thousand-acre ranches that can fetch about $1,000 to $3,000 at market are proving to be easy targets for rustlers on the down and out.
Among Oklahoma cattle thieves, about 75 percent are doing so to feed addictions, most often to meth amphetamines, according to Jerry Flowers, a retired Oklahoma City police detective and the state’s top “cattle cop.”
To fight the rustlers in Oklahoma, Flowers put together a unit of 10 people who have experience in law enforcement and on the ranch. They conduct about 300 investigations a year in a state about twice as large as Portugal.
There have been about 2,500 to 3,000 head of cattle reported stolen to the group each year, with about 45 percent recovered or tracked down. In larger Texas, the cattle cops are more numerous, with the largest division being the 30 special rangers working for the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association.
Last year, slightly more than 3,900 cattle were reported stolen, and the group investigates about 850 to 1,200 agricultural crimes a year.
Other states have also stepped up police presence on their farms and have turned to Texas and Oklahoma for help.
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by Marion Doss