Agricultural Engineering Field Specialist
Iowa State University Extension & Outreach
While property crime rates in Iowa have been falling since peaks in the 1980s, securing a rural acreage remains a primary concern and challenge. The main risks include vandalism, trespass, theft and drug activity. An additional concern is that any of these activities can lead to accident liability.
Theft from rural properties can include almost any items, from jewelry and firearms to automobiles and farm machinery. But the number one category of stolen items is hand tools. Why, you might wonder, take tools, when more valuable items are available? Thieves know that tools are easy to carry, seldom marked with recorded identifying numbers, and are very easy to sell.
Begin your security planning with an audit. Study your property and belongings to determine where your security is weakest, what is most worth protecting, and where you can get the most security improvement with reasonable investment. An accurate and updated inventory of belongings is important to decision-making and critical for settling a claim if theft or loss occurs. Digital photography and video can make your inventory less time consuming and less daunting. Talk to your insurance agent about tips and details for your inventory and coverage.
With the results of your security audit, develop an action plan. You may find that your security improvements can be centered in one part of the property, or that you can strengthen your security in logical steps over a period of years. You may choose to knock off the easy and inexpensive weak links first, while leaving the expensive or difficult steps until time and resources allow. Prioritizing makes sense, but simply having a plan will help guarantee progress.
Passive security measures help to deter or prevent unauthorized access, and may include things like improved lighting, signage, fencing, gates and locks. Law enforcement experts acknowledge that these measures don’t absolutely prevent access. But they will make your property less attractive to thieves and vandals, and even if your property is chosen, they will slow down the access, allowing more time for you or neighbors to notice the activity and call for help. These passive measures can be quite inexpensive. Security lights at building entrances and locks on doors and property entrance gates, for example, are a good first step.
Active security devices such as surveillance cameras, alarms, and integrated systems are becoming more sophisticated and more affordable. From very simple forms such as game or trail cameras, to driveway sensors and alarms, to integrated systems that allow you to answer the door and see visitors even when you’re not at home, the options are almost endless. Visit with a security technology expert to learn what is available and how to best build a security system that meets your needs. It can be easy to get wrapped up in the wow factor of fancy systems, but remember that your objective is to deter crimes against your property and to provide quick notification of emergency services when needed. Another key benefit of active systems is the ability to record crucial evidence to be used in law enforcement investigations. Getting photos of faces, vehicles, or even license plates can help break a ring of crimes against you and your neighbors.
Speaking of neighbors, a good network of concerned neighbors is a great deterrent and information source. Take turns watching each other’s property and notify each other of any suspicious activity. Let law enforcement know when you’re going to be away or if you see anything out of the ordinary. Your little bit of information may be the piece they need to link together a series of events.
Remember in all your property security planning that your personal safety is the first priority. Resist the urge to confront criminals. Instead, call law enforcement immediately and begin taking detailed notes and photos, if possible. Your attention to details will likely be more useful to rendering justice than any attempt to interrupt the crime.
For more information on rural security planning, consider these resources: