Tuesday, August 20, 2013

40% increase in cattle rustling followed 2009 penalty enhancement

Grits readers are aware of my longstanding view that "enhancing" (read: increasing) criminal penalties for things that are already illegal rarely has any impact on the rate at which those crimes are committed. A fine example comes from StateImpact Texas, a project of public radio stations KUT-Austin and KUHF-Houston, which reported today that a 40% rise in cattle rustling supervened the Texas Legislature's 2009 enhancement of penalties for that crime.
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.

“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.”
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?


Lee said...

dems gotta look cowboy texus tough on crim.

Anonymous said...

What exactly is the point? To get re-elected...but you knew that.

Rowan said...

Why are people stealing cattle is my question and how?

Anonymous said...

When is the last time you bought a steak? That's all you need to know about any increase in cattle rustling. Risk vs. Reward!

Gadfly said...

It's the Satanic abuser alien chupacabras stealing them, to take our precious bodily fluids back to Mexico.

I think Ted Cruz said that somewhere.

jdgalt said...

Are there enough news reports to back up the claim of an increase in cattle rustling? Because I see an obvious alternative explanation, and thought I'd put it up to see if anybody can knock it down:

Assume cattle ranchers in a drought. The price of feed has gone up as well. The ranchers' profit margin drops calamitously, maybe even into the red. This situation has to have tempted at least a few of them to arrange for some cattle to disappear and then file false theft reports, so that they can collect more from insurance (or even the tax deduction for the loss) than they'd have made by selling them.

I don't know that this has happened, but when a temptation is out there, somebody will go for it.

doran said...

Mr. Galt, what you described happened in a Rowan and Martin comedy western movie three or four decades ago. As ranchers in Texas, R&M were caught in a drought and could not sell their herd. So they just ran-off all of their cattle onto other ranches. If life continues to imitate "art" with regard to cattle theft, then we will see another up-tick in thefts when (or if) we start getting rain again. At least, that is what happened in the R&M flick: When rain returned, they stole back their cattle.

I think your suspicions could be true in some cases. If cattle are let loose to wander around in brush land, they will keep going until they find water, which means some of them will have to go miles away from their home ranches.

Unknown said...

I blame increased sales of barbeques. Who doesn't love some tastey briskey slow cooked over mesquite.

Its time to ban the sales of barbeques before they destroy the entire cattle industry.