Alabama’s new Agriculture and Rural Crimes Unit (ARCU) is investigating a rash of cattle thefts in Lauderdale County.

Although the official ARCU announcement will happen later this month, Gene Wiggins, who leads the new team, said investigators already are assisting sheriff’s departments with cases. 

“We were contacted last week about cattle stolen from Randy and Doris Hill,” Wiggins said.

“This is at least the fourth time since May 14 thieves have struck farms in Lauderdale County. We believe these crimes are related. Our investigator, Monty Merryman, has collected evidence and is working with the Lauderdale County Sheriff’s Department to identify suspects.”

The TimesDaily reported 30 Angus cattle were taken from the Hill’s pasture in the Murphy’s Chapel community.

"They cut the fence and just drove into the pasture," Doris Hill told the reporter. "They had to have two trailers because they got so many head."

Earlier in the month, thieves broke the lock on a gate and used Donnie Winter’s own catch pen to steal his cattle, according to the newspaper.

Wiggins said the Lauderdale County cases demonstrate the need for agricultural investigators.

 “With sheriff’s departments understaffed, it’s important to have trained investigators who understand these types of crimes and can focus on solving them,” Wiggins said.

“I appreciate Gov. (Robert) Bentley and Secretary (Spencer) Collier for allowing our unit to begin working cases and bring these criminals to justice.”

The creation of ARCU was authorized as part of a law enforcement consolidation bill the Alabama Legislature passed this spring. Bentley tapped Homeland Security Director Spencer Collier as secretary of the new Alabama State Law Enforcement Agency, which will include ARCU.

Agricultural investigators were previously housed in the Department of Agriculture and Industries, but recent budget cuts left the posts unmanned.