Ranchers saw a sharp jump in cattle rustling last year in Texas and Oklahoma. Over 10,000 cows and horses were reported missing or stolen. That’s an almost 40 percent increase from the year before. It’s a trend that’s surprised some in law enforcement.
Doug Hutchison is a special ranger commissioned by the Texas Department of Public Safety to investigate cattle theft. He points out that -since the drought ravaged herds in 2011- there’s simply less and less Texas cattle to steal.Grits has never understood: Since empirically enhancing criminal penalties (I despise that euphemism) has little effect - indeed, often the opposite - what exactly is the point?
“I was really starting to think that maybe we’d start to see a downturn, because these ranchers are watching so close to what they have with the downsizing of the herd, it’s a little easier to track,” said Hutchison.
He might have had another reason to expect a decline in thefts: Penalties against rustlers were toughened by Texas lawmakers in 2009. Now, the crime could put you in prison for up to 10 years. But ironically more and more cattle have gone missing or stolen since that law was passed.
Richard Hartley Chairs the Criminal Justice Department at UT San Antonio. He says it goes to show that tougher sentencing doesn’t generally serve as a deterrent. After all, cattle rustlers plied their trade even when the penalty was death.
“If you read a lot of the research or even just the historical writings on that era. When there was hangings in the town square crime would actually go up,” Hartly said. “Because when you had a lot of people congregated in an area where pickpockets would know that we steal stuff from them.”