Thieves bring crime to drone, drone on the range

Australian farmers drone training course

An agricultural community in central California has suffered something of a crime wave that police are attributing to thieves using drones for remote reconnaissance work. 

Motherload for droning crooks

Both the criminal activity and tech powering it are fairly novel to Mariposa County – home to about 18,000 people located in the very middle of California. According to the Mariposa Sierra Sun Times, the spate of thefts from local ranches left victims and authorities alike stunned. Expensive tools and equipment involved was frequently pilfered in far-flung locales miles from the nearest dwelling. 

Long distances traveled to and from remote work spots on large spreads makes hauling heavy equipment back and forth each day impractical. But once left in the open, the more valuable of those goods were identified by the thieves – ignoring line-of-vision laws to gain a better surveillance span with reduced risk of being caught.

Eventually, says Solano County Sheriff’s Department Sgt. Jim Currie, police understood the crooks were finding booty for their heists with drones.

We couldn’t figure out why anyone would even know they were there… What’s unique about it to us, and what caught our attention, was the use of the drones. This is all new to us, and I don’t think this is going to go away.

Dronnie and Clyde

Once wise to the MO, the cops knew what to look out for. Before long they bagged two suspects in possession of over $100,000 worth of stollen farm goods – and a pair of drones.

Still, Currie remains concerned about continued use of criminal drone activity. Reports have seeped in from surrounding rural counties of unmanned aerial vehicles and other tech tools being employed by regional crooks.

Don Stuhmer, a detective with the San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Agricultural Crimes Unit, told the Sierra Sun Times he knew animal protection groups had previously used drones for evidence of livestock mistreatment. Their deployment in crime, however, was as new as it was inevitable.

Use of drones would definitely be more feasible for bad guys to scout a property for items they would steal… Technology is definitely a venue bad guys are becoming better versed in and utilizing on a daily basis.

For now, police are waiting to see how the arrest of the two suspected droning thieves affects the spree that began in mid-February. Yet even if it slows or halts altogether, officials warn, farmers would be wise to stop leaving equipment out whenever possible. Eventually, they predict, more droning robbers will be aloft.

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