A DEDICATED Western Australian Police stock squad will be reformed to deal specifically with rural theft if The Nationals WA form part of the State government after March next year.
The Nationals WA leader Mia Davies pledged a full-time 20 member specialised stock squad would be reinstated as part of a range of promised measures aiming to crack down on rural crime and better protect farmers from criminals and animal activists.
Other proposed initiatives outlined by Ms Davies at Boyanup sale yards last Friday to be implemented if the Nationals help form the next government included:
Establishing an aggravated trespass offence carrying significantly higher penalties when multiple offenders are present or when geographic isolation or biosecurity risk are factors.
Creating $1000 on-the-spot fines for trespass on agricultural properties, as well as cafes, restaurants and schools.
Updating the Surveillance Devices Act 1998 to make it an offence to use drones to study the lay out of farming properties without permission.
The WA stock squad was disbanded in 2008 but there are growing calls from rural landowners and business owners for it to be reformed to counter worrying trends in rural crime, Ms Davies said.
There was evidence professional crime gangs were targeting isolated properties for several reasons, including a relatively lower risk compared to urban areas of being identified on security camera systems, she said.
It was also evident professional gangs and animal activists were using drones carrying cameras to record the contents of machinery sheds, the lay out of rural properties and who was about at certain times of the day or night.
Ms Davies said it was envisaged a reformed stock squad would concentrate on investigating and preventing livestock theft - a potentially big issue with restocking in the Eastern States after drought and bushfires.
But the information its members accrued in relation to criminals visiting regional areas and potential buyers of stolen farm items could assist investigations into a much broader range of rural crimes.
The Nationals would like to see members of the reformed stock squad stationed in rural communities throughout the State, but ultimately how the squad operated and where its members were located was an operational matter for police, she said.
"We've seen statistics reported back to us around stock theft, around firearms theft, around vehicle and machinery theft and we don't think that can continue to go unchecked," said Ms Davies, who is also the Central Wheatbelt MP.
"It's a particular type of crime, we think having a rural stock squad will assist in having an ongoing attention to some of these activities that from time to time seem to move right through the State, from our pastoral region to the South West.
"We will have to resource it (a reformed stock squad), we don't want to take resources away from front-line police, but the signatures on petitions collected by (The Nationals MLC representing the South West region) Colin Holt and the group he's been working with, across the South West in particular, demonstrate there is a real need for us to step up and look at this," she said.
Ms Davies said "notionally" providing 20 extra police officers for a stock squad could cost about $5 million.
"We've had discussions with the WA Police union and other stakeholders to assess whether that's realistic and we would need to do some fine tuning if we are in a position to deliver in government.
"Essentially the return of a rural stock squad allows us to focus specifically on agriculture and rural-based crime.
"We've seen a rise of animal activism, we've seen numbers that don't seem to be shifting in relation to rural crime and we think we need to send a strong message that we take this seriously."
With the proposed new aggravated trespass offence Ms Davies said her party was looking for double the existing trespass penalties and for a jail term maximum penalty.
"Our farm businesses, livestock transporters, café owners and others involved in the sector are going about their everyday business lawfully, they are not the ones doing anything wrong," she said.
"The people doing wrong are the ones we need to focus on and this government has not sent any strong messages, particularly to those animal activists who are not behaving in a way the community thinks appropriate.
"The Queensland and NSW governments have increased trespass penalties but this government is dragging its heels."
The Nationals WA has sought public feedback on its rural crime crackdown policy.
More information visit nationalswa.com