WLSB ready to recruit new investigator
As of June 1, Wyoming no longer has a state livestock investigator to look into missing and stolen livestock, animal welfare complaints or possible “white-collar” crimes, such as fraud. But the way is cleared now for the Wyoming Livestock Board (WLSB) to recruit another investigator to replace Ken Richardson, WLSB Director Steve True reported June 13 to the Joint Committee on Agriculture, State and Public Lands, and Water Resources in Pinedale.
The Committee met for two days to hear updates from state and national agencies on topics relevant to legislation and appropriations.
“I’m sure most people have heard Ken Richardson resigned as of June 1, so we no longer have one state investigator,” True said.
On June 13, True said he just received state approval to begin the hiring process to replace Richardson, adding “As much as I hate to let it be known, we don’t have an investigator.”
After the Wyoming Legislature ordered the WLSB’s 75-percent cut to that part of its budget, Richardson remained as the last of four investigators in the state.
From January to June this year, 105 new cases opened in 17 categories that “one single officer” tried to cover statewide, True said. These include “missing and stolen” reports of 51 sheep, 318 cattle and 19 horses. Richardson recovered three cattle and 16 horses.
“Thirty cases were carried over from last year, and 46 are active,” he continued. “There’s a real need for an investigator here.”
Richardson also started to train a network of deputies and Wyoming Highway Patrol troopers, True said.
“Our biggest case right now is 150 head of sheep. This past spring, a lot of calls came in about missing baby calves, as well,” True continued.
True said “missing” reports are sent to National Livestock Investigators Association website.
Four types of theft are common, he said. One is stealing a baby calf outright; another is shooting a beef and taking meat. Others steal both the cow and calf and send the cow back, and “the fourth is white-collar crime” committed mainly with computers.
Getting the word out
Sen. Ogden Driskill of Devils Tower voiced concern that no one knew Richardson was leaving, commenting, “My main brand inspector didn’t even know he’d quit.”
Driskill commended Richardson, as well, saying, “We thank Mr. Richardson. He did a bang-up job for what he did.”
He and others said people with missing cattle and sheep don’t bother to report them any more.
True said he e-mailed notice of Richardson’s departure to brand inspectors and county sheriffs.
“And we always encourage inspectors to take ‘missing’ reports. If it’s hot enough, the local agency will get a copy,” he said.
True envisions rebuilding the program from the ground up.
“I have no interest in going back to it the way it was. I rewrote the description for that position,” he explained. “The bulk of work would be training and involvement with our local folks until we can put together a vision. We need to help train one guy for each cooperating agency.”
Rep. Bill Henderson of Cheyenne asked True for a timeframe on a rebuilding effort. True speculates the process will take a full year.
Legislators also asked why Wyoming Department of Transportation (WYDOT) doesn’t staff its ports of entry 24/7, requesting WYDOT’s attendance at its next meeting.
“I encourage WLSB, as much as they can, to use local investigators,” said Driscoll.
True said he would like to see counties create rural crime task forces, but, “It’s a mixed response from different agencies.”
Rep. Albert Sommers suggested a fee-based multi-county task force and said the Appropriations Committee will offer assistance.
Sublette County Commissioner Joel Bousman told the committee Sheriff K.C. Lehr has two deputies doing random livestock trailer checks for paperwork. He suggested the WLSB attend the next Wyoming Association of Sheriffs and Chiefs of Police meeting and discuss training. He said several counties could pool grant money to work together.
“Many counties don’t have the resources,” Bousman said. “We do.”
Sen. Larry Hicks said there are funds for reimbursement.
Amy Hendrickson of the Wyoming Wool Growers Association told the committee that Wyoming must increase its capacity to investigate rustling. Members had $70,000 to $80,000 worth of sheep stolen this year. One young producer had $30,000 stolen, and another couple endangered their business after 70 head were stolen worth $650 each.
“I must reiterate how important having a livestock investigator is,” she said.
Joy Ufford is a correspondent for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and is a reporter for the Pinedale Roundup and Sublette Examiner. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.