Rural residents from across Story County gathered at Gates Hall in Nevada March 6 for a presentation on Farm Watch from the Story County Sheriff’s Office. The program was conducted by Sergeant Randy Mortvedt. Story County is the first county in the U.S. to officially launch this program, after successful test runs in parts of California.

Farm Watch is designed as a neighborhood watch for rural residents to watch out for suspicious activity, much like a neighborhood watch program in larger cities. The program encourages rural residents to be more observant of their surroundings when at home or traveling familiar gravel roads, since they are the citizens most aware of neighbors’ vehicles and activities. Several burglaries and break-ins have occurred in rural areas of the county after perpetrators have learned the time of the day or week when it’s more likely no one will be home.

The sheriff’s office stressed that they do not want any vigilantes in the county in the interest of keeping everyone safe. They urged attendees to contact local law enforcement if they observe any suspicious activity. Some examples of abnormal or suspicious activity would be driving along the same gravel road multiples times per day, backing into multiple driveways. The sheriff’s office encouraged rural residents to be more observant, noting the time of day or week they see suspicious activity, the number of people involved and those peoples’ appearance and behavior, and if there are any patterns observed.

When watching people, law enforcement encouraged residents to start with the basics like gender, age and race. Next, if possible, move on to height, weight, hair color, facial hair and other identifiers, like tattoos.

When describing the location to law enforcement, sheriffs want residents to describe as much as possible about the location, including house numbers, mile markers if on or near a highway, cross streets and landmarks that local law enforcement or emergency responders can quickly recognize.

"Farm Watch helps reduce opportunities for crime to occur in farming and rural communities," said Paul Fitzgerald, Story County sheriff. "Essential to this is encouraging people to report suspicious incidents to law enforcement officials as they occur and also share the information with other Farm Watch members. As well as helping to deter crime, this strengthens community spirit with everyone working together to protect their property."

Later this year, the county will be broken down into 16 townships and rural homeowners will elect route captains to represent their township. These route captains will then meet quarterly with representatives of the sheriff’s office to discuss ways that the program can be improved or any feedback heard from rural residents of the county.

DuPont is sponsoring the Farm Watch program. The company has a vested interest in suspicious activity happening in rural locales as this is where many of their corn stover piles will be located before they are hauled to the new cellulosic ethanol plant west of Nevada. The company also provided Farm Watch signs for rural homeowners to post on their properties, warning potential perpetrators that their home is not an easy target.

To register for the Farm Watch program, contact the Story County Sheriff’s Office at 515-382-6566.