Tori Sutton, Stratford Gazette
ATV thefts continue to plague Perth County, and police are encouraging rural residents to keep their eyes open for suspicious activity.
Over 10 machines have been reported stolen so far this year, and there is no sign of the thefts slowing down, said Perth County OPP Const. Kees Wijnands.
“The criminal element knows they’re an easy item to steal and get rid of,” Wijnands told the Gazette. “They either ship them out of the area, or cut them up in chop shop-type set-ups where they sell them for their parts.”
Those parts can often command a higher price on the black market than an assembled ATV. Depending on the make, model, and how many special features a machine has, they can retail anywhere from $4,000 to $15,000, he said.
Last Tuesday, an ATV was stolen from an open drive shed at a residence on Highway 7/8 between Stratford and Shakespeare. The machine had 27-inch mud tires, a two-up buddy seat and a snorkel, all customized items that increased the value of the ATV, said Wijnands.
While many people view ATVs as a recreational vehicle, the four-wheelers actually have a practice use on most farms. In fact, Wijnands estimates 75 per cent of ATVs stolen in Perth County are used strictly for agricultural purposes.
“A lot of the time they are workhorses around the farm,” he said. “Farmers use them for seeding in the fields, fertilizer spreading ... all kinds of stuff.”
Recovering stolen ATVs has been a source of frustration for local police.
“It’s easier to recover cars, trucks, even tractors and other farm equipment,” Wijnands said. “(An ATV) is a much smaller item; it is easy for it to get shipped to a hunting camp up north and disappear.”
Occasionally, police do get lucky. On May 19, an OPP officer on patrol in Shakespeare noticed a pick-up truck headed east on Highway 7/8 with a Honda ATV in the back. The officer pulled over the vehicle and further investigation revealed the ATV had been stolen from a farm in Milverton the previous weekend. The ATV already had identifying items stripped from it, but its owner was able to identify it through distinguishing marks.
That’s why it’s wise for owners to make small modifications, such as a mark on the frame, that will allow them to identify the ATV but not make it obvious to thieves stripping the vehicle. Wijnands has a few suggestions as to how residents can prevent such thefts, which are often a crime of opportunity.
First he is encouraging rural residents to watch out for unusual or suspicious activity in the area, and report it immediately to OPP. It could be as simple as someone pulling into a laneway claiming to be lost, when in reality they are casing the property for items to steal. Police have an electronic system where such information – no matter how trivial it may be – is filed.
When crimes are committed, police can go back to the database to begin piecing together descriptions of vehicles, people and incidents, Wijnands said.
“That’s the only way we can combat this – the population themselves need to be the eyes and ears,” he said. “It’s not being nosy of your neighbours, it’s looking out for each other.”
As well, he encourages farmers to secure vehicles – such as keeping them in a locked garage instead of an open drive shed or parked beside a barn – and secure the keys.
Wijnands admitted sometimes this can be difficult for farmers, since they require their equipment to be easily accessible to them at all times, and often leave keys with machines for ease of operation.
“The criminal element knows this and they’re taking advantage of it,” he said. “It’s a crime of opportunity and if we could reduce that, it would help.”