Florida Sport Horse Club
Guest Speaker: Polk County Sheriff’s Detective Jay Scarborough, Agricultural Unit
February 17, 2020
Jay Scarborough is a lead detective with the Polk County Sheriff’s Agricultural Unit, with many years of experience. He is a certified animal/equine cruelty expert, owns 3 horses, and leads the Polk County Mounted Sheriff’s Unit. He chairs the state-wide committee tasked with tracking Florida’s horse thefts and slaughters. In his off-duty hours, he manages a 400-cattle ranch. He provided the following information pertinent to horse owners in Polk County.
As of 2018, there were just over 708,000 people in Polk County. The county has 9 Agricultural Deputies (like Detective Scarborough), more than any other county in Florida. 72% to 75% of the land is still agricultural.
As hard as it is to believe, about 20 horses every year are found wandering around the county and are never claimed. They are generally turned over to Hope Equine Rescue in hopes of finding a good home for the animals.
In the last 18 years, there has been only ONE verified horse theft in the county. Two horses and a trailer were stolen and tracked to Clewiston, where the trail was lost. They have not been recovered. There is currently one suspicious horse disappearance from Old Polk City Road, but no evidence has been found to confirm theft.
There has never been any horse slaughtered in Polk County. Up to 4 years ago, all the horse slaughters were south of Alligator Alley, mostly in the Miami area. It is part of the Cuban culture that when thoroughbreds are done with their racing careers, they are slaughtered for meat. When Cuban people emigrate to the U.S., they continue their tradition of eating horsemeat; the only way to get it, though, is through the black market where the meat can sell for anywhere from $7 to $40 per pound. Thoroughbreds are preferred, as the meat is leaner and more marbled; the preferred cuts are the shoulder and backstrap. The horses are generally killed quietly by cutting the jugular vein; the killers take only enough meat to fit in a few coolers.
Only 3 horses have been slaughtered north of that Alligator Alley line: 1 in north Manatee, 1 in south Manatee, and 1 in Sumter County. The 2 in Manatee were typical of the slaughters in the Miami area; the 1 in Sumter was atypical, with the horse almost completely filleted and skeletonized.
It is wise for you to post “No Trespassing” signs on your property. The standard rule is to post one sign on each corner, each access point (like a driveway or gate), and one every 500 feet of fencing. If your land borders a lake or canal, post one on the shore as well. Polk County (and many other counties) has an “Agricultural Watch Program,” developed as a means to identify ownership of agricultural properties and consists of a “No Trespassing By Order of The Sheriff” sign listing the property/business owner’s name and a code number. If you are interested in participating in the program, please contact the Polk County Sheriff’s Office Agricultural Crimes Unit at 863-534-7205 or via email at AgriculturalCrimes@polksheriff.org. The packet to apply for the program is posted in the “Useful Documents” portion of the Florida Sport Horse Club’s web page (https://floridasporthorseclub.files.wordpress.com/2020/01/polk-county-sheriff-ag-watch-packet.pdf).
If you live on a private road, place your “No Trespassing” signs liberally along your property line at the private road. Placing 1 sign at the start of the road will not be enough, considering your neighbors have their own guests coming and going.
Those hoping to find horses to steal DO NOT stop by the side of the road and take pictures of the animals. As hard as it may be for us to comprehend, those who stop to admire our animals are generally from places that don’t have such opportunities and are truly just wanting to take pictures as souvenirs. If you see people like this, you may either safely approach and ask their business or call the Sheriff’s office and ask for a deputy to investigate. The non-emergency number is 863-298-6200. But it is not against the law to stop by the side of the road and take pictures, and the deputies can only ask questions.
Those who are thieves may drive by during the day but generally have not been found to stop. They’ll return at night to see where the horses are (barn, pastures, etc.) to scope out accessibility. If the horses appear to be too difficult to reach or catch, or if there are too high probabilities of getting caught, they’ll go elsewhere.
If you find trespassers on your land, use discretion! If you feel comfortable approaching, do so and ask their business. Inform them they are on private land and must leave. Carry your cell phone so you can call 911 if necessary; video the interaction, people and vehicles. Videos are far better than still pictures for law enforcement. If you don’t feel safe in approaching, CALL 911! The Sheriff’s department can dispatch someone quickly to your location. Again, take videos of the people, activities and vehicles.
Remember that carrying guns to threaten others can backfire on you. Unless you are directly threatened and are in fear for your life, shooting somebody can land you in prison. Attackers have also been known to take the guns away from the homeowners and shoot them. The castle law (a legal doctrine that designates a person’s abode or any legally occupied place (for example, a vehicle or home) as a place in which that person has protections and immunities permitting one, in certain circumstances, to use force (up to and including deadly force) to defend oneself against an intruder, free from legal prosecution for the consequences of the force used) ONLY applies to one’s home—not the barn or any other part of your property. Shooting a vehicle or other property is also illegal. It is best to call 911 and watch from a safe place.
You DO have the right to detain trespassers on your property, if you can do so safely, while waiting for law enforcement.
There are a number of things you can do to protect and watch over your property and animals:
• If possible, don’t leave your horses in pastures where they can be seen from roadways.
• Keep horses in the largest open area possible at night. If thieves have to work hard to find and catch your horses they’ll go elsewhere.
• Don’t keep halters on your horses; hide the halters/lead ropes where they can’t be easily seen or found. Do not hang them on gates or stall doors.
• Lock your stall doors.
• Plant spiky or thorny plants along fence lines. If trespassers have to climb through blackberry bushes they may choose an “easier” property.
• Get a fence that is hard to climb and/or cut. Use a heavy schedule wire that is tougher to cut.
• Chain and lock BOTH sides of the gate, both opening side and hinge side. Use a very heavy gauge that can’t be easily cut (an octagon is recommended), and heavy tempered steel locks.
• Use lighting where appropriate. Solar lighting is coming down in cost and can be placed in barns, at access points etc.
• Barn dogs can be good or useless, depending on the situation and property. They may be so used to people coming around that they do not alert to the “bad guys,” or they could get excited when horses are running and chase the animals.
• Consider cameras that you can monitor via your cell phone, like game cameras. The infrared are best, because they don’t use a flash that will alert trespassers to their presence and work well in darkness. Place a bit of electrical tape over the little red light that shows when a picture is taken. Place cameras high—10 feet or greater—since people don’t generally look up. Be sure to get the angle correctly when placing them. These cameras need a Wi-Fi signal and a monthly/annual subscription, depending on the number of pictures they take. Bushnell or SpyPoint are good brands; SpyPoints are easier to set up. Fake cameras may be better than nothing, but the real cameras are coming down in cost and can give better value.
For more information, you are welcome to contact Detective Scarborough through his office (863-534-7205) or via email (firstname.lastname@example.org).