Growers adding ‘extra eyes’ on farms with cameras

Managing Editor

(Nov. 17, 2015) Matt Jones dealt with theft on his farm for years, like many other area farmers, calling police after it happened and filing insurance claims.
But it wasn’t until his employees’ wasting time on the job got out of hand that he took action with surveillance cameras.
“We’ve got a lot of stuff going on and I can’t be out here all the time,” said Jones, who farms about 4,000 acres in and near Caroline County with his father and brothers and also operates a greenhouse and two chicken houses near Harrington. “It was just more hours and less getting done.”
With video of the employees not following orders, Jones said he had the needed proof for keeping them on task or fire those that didn’t learn.
“After about a week they go back to normal behavior,” he said. ”They just don’t think you’re checking them. Once the cameras went in, I probably paid for the system last year alone.”
Whether it’s to catch an employee stealing on his time sheet or someone taking equipment or other property, cameras have become more popular on farms as a line of defense, said Darrin Moore, president of Safehouse, an Eastern Shore-based security company. He said since he started the business two years ago, he’s installed camera systems on dozens of farms from poultry farms to horse breeding operations and on farm produce markets.
“Everybody was asking me about cameras, so we started installing cameras and it took off,” he said.
Jones said the goal of having the cameras is to keep a crime from happening, but for those that persist and try to steal, the cameras will help bring the thief to justice.
Theft on Delmarva farms skyrocketed more than five years ago when prices for copper and other scrap metal reached record highs. In the wake of the barrage of thieves seeking to make fast cash in stealing irrigation wire, several alarm systems and other protection methods hit the market along with legislative efforts to have scrap yards record the identification of scrap metal sellers.
“When junk prices were high they were stealing 24-7,” he said. Now, Jones said theft on farms may have dropped in some areas but “they’re still stealing,” and law enforcement officers said incidents in winter tend to rise on farms as there is less activity.
Master Cpl. Gary Fournier, spokesperson for the Delaware State Police said detectives have not seen a notable increase in thefts on farms in Kent and Sussex counties, but it’s not unusual for the amount of incidents to fluctuate. He added farmers being more proactive with measures like cameras could be a factor.
“Those are good at being a deterrent as well as assisting us in solving crimes,” Fournier said.
Lieutenant Patrick Metzger at Maryland State Police’s Barrack X in Princesse Anne, Md., said even if a camera doesn’t get footage of a person’s face, it might capture images of a vehicle or some other clue that helps them find the perpetrator.
“If there’re farmers putting cameras on their buildings or around farm equipment, that is 150 percent useful,” Metzler said. “That’s like having an eyewitness on the scene.”
Moore said cost of camera systems has come down and are more precise and have greater ability. Setting up a network where a user can check cameras on a smartphone or computer from just about anywhere is basically a matter of having high-speed internet and with line of sight, groups of cameras at different locations can be connected. Outfitting a site with a group of cameras on one network can cost a couple thousand dollars, depending on size and installation needs, Moore said.
“It’s a system you can build upon,” he said. “There’s always bells and whistles.”
Kathy Willms a Bridgeville, Del., poultry grower said having cameras on her farm will help her better monitor the activity on the farm when she can’t be there herself. Along with deterring thieves, Willms said it’s an added biosecurity measure and helps her manage her time better.
“I looked into it basically when I was first building the houses,” she said. “It’s not better than being here yourself but it’s good to have an extra eye.”
In remote fields without electricity, Moore said farmers have used battery- or solar-powered cameras to watch over equipment and entrances. He’s also worked with some people to make a mobile system that could be moved from site to site.
Jones said dealing with problems on land they own is bad enough but when it happens on rented land, he said it could lead to having the lease terminated.
“It’s pretty hard to acquire land. You spend years building a reputation,” Jones said. “You’ve got to protect what you have.”