UNION COUNTY — For the first time in at least a decade, cattlemen in northeast Oregon will form a sort of neighborhood watch to combat cattle rustling and other crimes in remote ranchlands. The new Union County sheriff’s program follows the conviction of four Eastern Oregon men, who were caught in 2004 selling stolen calves. The group was tied to other cattle theft around the region.
Sheriff Boyd Rasmussen hopes to have 20 to 30 ranchers volunteer this spring to keep an eye out for suspicious characters. As part of this rural crime and livestock patrol, volunteers would have a temporary sheriff’s sign on their vehicles and write down license plate numbers of vehicles that seem out of place.
One of the most common rustling practices is to swipe newborn calves — worth about $200 — in the spring before ranchers realize they have new members of their herd. Rasmussen says deputies are also watching for methamphetamine dealers who manufacture and sell drugs on ranchlands. But those activities rarely happen without a vehicle, and law enforcement officials can use plate numbers logged by ranchers to trace who was near the crime scene and when.
“The ranchers are more aware of who should and shouldn’t be out there than we are,” Rasmussen says. “They can tell if a certain license plate hasn’t ever been around and write it down.” He says similar programs have been talked about in Union County in the past, but in his 10 years with the sheriff’s office, they’ve never been implemented.
— Oakley Brooks
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