In this episode of "Keeping It 100," Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister is joined by Corporal Dana Chancey of #teamHCSO's Agricultural Crimes Unit. This small unit is comprised of deputies who are responsible for all the farms and ranches in the county. They investigate crimes including fence cutting, poaching and criminal mischief. Agriculture makes up almost of quarter of Hillsborough County, so it's a vital part of the local economy. Join Sheriff Chronister and Corporal Chancey as they take a closer look at Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office Agricultural Crimes Unit.
Merissa Lynn, Host: Hello everybody. And welcome into this edition, this is episode number 10 of Keeping it 100 with Sheriff Chad Chronister. I am your host for the episode, Merissa Lynn. As always, we are here with the honorable sheriff, Sheriff Chad Chronister. Sheriff, how are you doing today?
Sheriff Chad Chronister: Hello, how are you? Always happy to be here.
Merissa Lynn, Host: And we also have Corporal Dana Chancey because we are going to be talking about the Sheriff's office's smaller units that covers a large portion everywhere here in Hillsborough County, the Agricultural Crimes Unit. Corporal Chancey, Thank you for being with us today.
Cpl. Dana Chancey: Good morning. Thank you for having me.
Sheriff Chad Chronister: He's a rockstar. He's a little quiet, but he's a rock star. And I'm glad we're going to be able to hear not only how important it is, but exactly what he does. People are going to have a new admiration for everything he and his unit do.
Merissa Lynn, Host: Yeah. And Sheriff, I don't think that a lot of people actually realize that we have this type of unit here working the farms and ranches of Hillsborough County.
Sheriff Chad Chronister: People don't realize what a big chunk farming is when it comes to Hillsborough County. 22% of our county is based on agriculture. And think how important that is, how vital that is. Not that the likelihood of the people who work the farms, but how about all the crop and food that it provides for not just people here in Hillsborough County, but throughout the entire country.
Merissa Lynn, Host: Yeah. So that's about a quarter of the country, a quarter of the county, I should say, where you Corporal Chancey, you're patrolling those farms and ranches. Can you walk us through exactly what you guys do, and how many units there are, and what types of crimes you investigate?
Cpl. Dana Chancey: Well, the Agriculture Crimes Unit is comprised of three full-time agricultural investigators, and then a working supervisor. And we're responsible for the whole county, for farms and ranches. And they have inherent issues that they've been dealing with for decades. One of them is theft, trespassing, criminal mischief, which is a felony criminal mischief because of fence cutting while there's livestock. Poaching is systemic from that. What we try to do is go out there and be proactive. And we've figured out that being proactive is the best deterrent versus being reactive.
Sheriff Chad Chronister: Someone's like, "Oh, poaching." That's someone's livelihood. If you poach a steer that they would take to auction, that's stealing. That's theft. That's a loss that they have to sustain.
Merissa Lynn, Host: Yeah. And like you mentioned, this is people's livelihoods out here. You're raising these livestock, they're selling crops. And it's not just here in Hillsborough County. Those types of livelihoods extend much farther than just Hillsborough County.
Cpl. Dana Chancey: And the inherent danger too. So poaching from the roadway, typically it's at nighttime, using a gun to light. Well, you're shooting into a largely or heavily wooded area. You don't know what's on the other side. You don't know what's in between you and whatever you're aiming at. We've had a couple of ranchers down there patrolling their cow-calf operation and they usually do it on horseback. So it's pretty quiet and you really don't see them. But they're looking for calves that have recently been born. They get a count of them and if they need aid, they go out there and aid them. And we've had a couple where they were dodging bullets from somebody shooting from the roadway, which is dangerous. And then we also have people that are shooting from the roadway by houses that they're unaware of because it's covered by woodland. So that's one of the issues that we're having with the poaching and then also-
Sheriff Chad Chronister: The dangers, and then the economic impact. Hillsborough County, when you talk about the market value of the agricultural products sold in Hillsborough County, we rank third in the state. So it's a large operation. This isn't just a few mom-and-pop farms and ranches out here. It's a big part... Again, 22% of our county is agriculture.
Merissa Lynn, Host: And Corporal Chancey, can you walk us through the importance of having that relationship with these farmers and ranchers and our agency?
Cpl. Dana Chancey: Well, it's vital to have a working relationship and a personal relationship with the farmers and ranchers. They cover a large amount on these farms and ranches and they work long hours, especially during the season. So right now we're in season. They've already broke ground. They're starting to put plants in and they're putting pretty much everything they have into a good crop. So their nest is giving their livelihood up for risk. And what we're trying to do is go out there and help them to prevent that risk. So they're stretching plastic, they run irrigation, the running hose. Right now, due to COVID they're having issues getting plants in on time. So that's even stretching them thin. So the last thing they need is somebody to come out and tear up stuff, steal stuff, or just come out there and cause a burden for them while they're out there trying to strive. They work long hours, 16, 18 hours a day.
Merissa Lynn, Host: Yeah. I do want to get more into the strawberry season because that's the big thing right now here in our county, what you guys are seeing out there. But first I do want to get into some of the crimes that you guys investigate. Some of the bigger issues that we see in Hillsborough County when it comes to farmers, ranchers and the problems that they deal with. You and I have talked about this so many times, fence cutting. That seems to be one of the larger-scale problems here in Hillsborough County.
Cpl. Dana Chancey: It is. And most people, they're not aware of it. They think, "Oh, it's just a fence." A thousand acres, they don't see much there when they're at the fence line because the cows, or the livestock or horses, goats, pigs, they could be in the woodline for whatever reason. And they, they cut it, they cut it or they slept through it. Or they take out the staples and spread the wires apart, either to go fishing or whatever the case is. They're out there when they're not supposed to be out there. In essence, that is a trespass warning offense. It's a boundary. No different than your house, where you have a chain-link fence. There's somebody hopping your chain link fence and crossing into your front yard. No difference. It's just at a greater degree, a bigger magnitude because now you're containing livestock that could, in essence, get out on the roadway and be a major hazard.
Merissa Lynn, Host: And Sheriff, we've had incidents like this that we've seen in recent months. Can you talk to us about just how dangerous it is. Not only is it a crime to cut someone's fence but then now you've got to deal, on top of that, with potentially having livestock in the middle of the road, where they could get hit, people could be driving and it could cause a disaster.
Sheriff Chad Chronister: You said it. Extremely dangerous to motorists, to people outside the farm, and to the animals themselves. Just again, a big crime that has a huge economic impact and creates an extremely dangerous situation.
Merissa Lynn, Host: Another crime that you guys go out there and investigate, Corporal Chancey, is illegal dumping. What is it? How can people recognize it?
Cpl. Dana Chancey: So illegal dumping. That's dumping in a location that's not certified or authorized to deal with debris, waste, or trash. And it's pretty prominent. And it's getting more prominent with population increase. We try to help as much as we can, but the taxpayers and the private property owners, it becomes a burden to them financially and physically when somebody illegally dumps and play them on their property.
Cpl. Dana Chancey: We've had a couple of cases where people would back up to driveways and just dump and then pull off. Can you imagine coming down your driveway, leaving home to go to work and you can't cross because you have debris there? About six months ago, there was a call in the system. There was debris, and debris was dumped on a curve down south. It's at night, there's a blind curve, and there's debris dumped all the way across. Two trailer loads. Somebody could have gotten really hurt with that. And fortunately, we have the Environmental Enforcement Unit and they have the resources that they stopped traffic on the roadway. They got the county down there to assist us and we cleared it with no issues.
Sheriff Chad Chronister: A lot of people are taking advantage. What they're doing is they're getting paid to remove whatever the load may be, or contractors that have to pay to dispose of it. And they become greedy. And they're like, "Well, let's not take it to the proper disposal location. Let's just dump it on someone's property." Well, there's an economic impact that someone now has to pay someone to remove that. But then you have the environmental impact too, whatever it is. Think of the health hazards, or the mosquitoes. Just an unsafe situation that it creates.
Merissa Lynn, Host: This is something that we take very seriously here at the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office. In recent weeks, we conducted a month-long operation to crack down on commercial littering and illegal dumping. 14 people were arrested as a result of Operation Clean Sweep. And Sheriff, you mentioned it before, but this is such a health hazard for people, and you think about it long-term. You think about it short term, it's just like, "Hey, I'm throwing trash on the side of the road." But if that stays there forever and ever, that could create chemical hazards, et cetera.
Sheriff Chad Chronister: 100%. Again, it has an economic impact, but I think more importantly or equally as important, it has an environmental impact. It's something that we take extremely seriously. We live in a beautiful county and it's our responsibility as a community and as law enforcement to keep it that way. And it's going to be that way.
Merissa Lynn, Host: And one of the last topics I want to discuss with you guys in terms of crimes that the Agricultural Crimes Unit does investigate. It should be no surprise, animal cruelty. How often do you see this Corporal Chancey?
Cpl. Dana Chancey: It fluctuates. I don't want to say seasonal, but it seems to coincide with the season. And that will be with grass. Some of it is intentional, so it doesn't matter what season that is. They just intentionally refuse to take care of the animal. And luckily we have people that report that, and we go out there, no matter what the report is. Even if it's an anonymous complaint, we go out there and we verify. Horses are our primary caseload. And we'll go out there. We do a full investigation, very detailed. If it's something that's questionable, we'll go back out there, we get resources. Typically a veterinarian gets involved. And we continue to monitor the animal until it reaches an appropriate body condition score. And body condition score is a healthy being of the animal.
Merissa Lynn, Host: Mm-hmm (affirmative). And last but not least. I sort of lied before, but I do want to get into poaching too. Because that's something, when we talked about it, Corpora, I was like, "Poaching happens in Hillsborough County?" Where do you guys see that most often?
Cpl. Dana Chancey: Primarily on the southeast side. And then we're starting to see it triangle into the northeast side of Hillsborough County. And poaching is a couple of things. It's poaching livestock. I'm sorry, poaching wildlife, which is a resource violation. And we've done operations in the past with FWC. And we went out there and we've surveilled the area. We've used the robo-deer. We've also went out there and stayed in the area just to gather intel. And we were successful in the past for that. And then now we figured we'll go out there and be more proactive. And proactive for the past couple of years has paid off. It's paid off, both for the property owner, and in the safety of the traveler.
Merissa Lynn, Host: Yeah. And proactive patrol, Sheriff, is not something that we just see on the roads and the streets with our patrol deputies. Every unit that we have here at the Hillsborough County Sheriff's office, including the Agricultural Crimes Unit is trying to prevent these crimes from happening in the first place.
Sheriff Chad Chronister: Our agriculture community is extremely important to us and we're going to expend whatever resources necessary to keep them, their properties, their farms, and their animals safe.
Merissa Lynn, Host: We touched on this before. We're talking about strawberry season right now, here in October. This is the time of the year when the seeds are actually being planted. When you talk about proactive patrol, Corporal, what are you looking for at this time of year when the seeds are just getting into the ground?
Cpl. Dana Chancey: So we're looking at unnecessary traffic going to the farm or ranch. And it's pretty obvious who's supposed to be there and who's not. And the relationship that we've built with the farmers and rangers, we're pretty aware who's supposed to be on there and who's not. And then the relationship also gives us intel because they're out there 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It is their livelihood. In essence, that's how they're feeding their family. We're out there during our shift and having that relationship. That's where we get vital information and we act on it as quickly as we can, as soon as we can. And we exhaust every avenue that we can, as far as our equipment and in our databases. And so we go out there and we patrol it. We proactively patrol on the back sides or sides where we know that it's easy access. And we look for signs.
Merissa Lynn, Host: And Sheriff, you have made it a point to use social media to try to solve crimes. I know we have posted so many photos of lost animals, illegal dumping. Why do you think social media has done such a great job of getting people to understand the other types of crimes that we may see in our more rural areas here in Hillsborough County?
Sheriff Chad Chronister: Social media is such an important avenue of communication. And I think the most important advantage that we gain from social media is instantaneous. And as a society, we want that information and we want it now. Something happens today, we put it out tomorrow. Two days from now, it's irrelevant, no one wants to hear it. So it's great with social media and we're going to take advantage of that platform again, to use it to solving crimes and protecting our community. And agricultural communities is again a big part of that.
Merissa Lynn, Host: In a lot of these cases, it's not an emergency. If you see trash on the side of the road, it's after the fact, these are all delayed calls. Sheriff, for those who you may see something, whether it's illegal dumping, commercial littering, et cetera, what should people do to report these crimes to the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office?
Sheriff Chad Chronister: Yes, please. Don't keep the blinders on. You see something like this, you see something suspicious.... Again, we can't say enough, see something, say something and you can contact us quite easily on our non-emergency line at (813) 247-8200. And the dispatchers will get the Ag unit to look at it. Again, immediately, aggressively, and proactively.
Merissa Lynn, Host: Mm-hmm (affirmative). And you guys are on call too, Corporal.
Cpl. Dana Chancey: We're on call. Every weekend, we're on call and we do respond. And we have responded 2:00, 3:00 in the morning. Rain or shine we're there. And it's pretty important when we do get called out that we get there as quick as we can. So we have the resources set and the sheriff has provided us great resources to where we can accommodate whatever we need to transport. We've transported anything from pigs, all the way up to buffalo. And he's allowed us to do that with the equipment that we have. And we are fortunate in this county to have that.
Sheriff Chad Chronister: When you think about that, you think a homicide gets called out, robbery. Well, the Ag unit gets called out quite frequently.
Merissa Lynn, Host: Yes they do.
Sheriff Chad Chronister: And you think the dangers that are created with the time delay of them getting there, you were just telling us a story about a ram that was loose in the city of Tampa, a heavily populated area. Imagine the injuries that could have been caused if he wouldn't have got there and handled that quickly and diligently to prevent any type of serious injury from happening to anyone else or the animal.
Merissa Lynn, Host: Yeah. And you guys went in there and you basically took in this ram. Talking about that, you took it to your impound lot, took care of it, you fed it, made sure it had everything it needed before the owner was able to come back and pick it back up.
Sheriff Chad Chronister: But how did you figure out who the owner was on that? When you told that story, that was the first thing that popped in my head. You guys are phenomenal investigators in tracking down, but did that happen?
Cpl. Dana Chancey: So that's where social media helped us play a part. So since we started using social media with the Sheriff's office, we've had a great return on locating the owners. So we got a tip and we followed the tip from an anonymous tipster. And we followed it and we ended up making contact. We had to do some door knocking and we had to do some traveling, but ultimately we were able to make contact with him and verify that it was his. And he come out and we load it up for him. And now the ram is back home safe.
Sheriff Chad Chronister: That's great. What another example of how our social media and how diligent we are with social media is really working. This is a perfect time for you to tell everyone, Merissa, where to follow us.
Merissa Lynn, Host: @HCSOSheriff. We're on @HCSOSheriff. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube as well. So make sure you're following us here. And I was just going to say, with social media, oftentimes we're posting pictures. I can't remember a post that we put without a picture or a video. So I imagine the agricultural community here in Hillsborough is pretty tight knit, considering that almost a quarter of the county is, is a part of that community. So when maybe one person sees a sheep or a ram or a bull that may not be theirs, they can be like, "Well, hey, I saw this one. This one looks like a neighbor of mine." So I assume that's how it works with the agriculture community.
Cpl. Dana Chancey: It is. They are very tight knit and very personable with each other. So if a bull does get out and they're able to contain it or hold it, typically we won't hear about it. And they'll just wait, they'll see him that Sunday morning, or they'll make a phone call to him the next day, and they do the exchange. But there are times where they will travel or it's a new animal to the stock and it gets out, going back to its original home, and will travel for a while. And then that's when we'll get called out because it doesn't want to go in anybody's yard. It wants to stay in that roadway to try to go back and find home. And that's when we got to go out there and we will pen it and corral it, load it up and take it to the impound lot for safety.
Merissa Lynn, Host: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Sheriff, any closing remarks? Anything that you want to mention to the agricultural community about what the Ag Crimes Unit does here at HCSO?
Sheriff Chad Chronister: Our message is simple. The agriculture community is such a big part of our overall community. When you think of 22%, the economic impact that has on our community, the advantages because it provides such great wholesome food to this community, the state, and around the country, from strawberries to cattle. They're a priority to us. We're going to be extremely proactive to prevent any type of crime that will affect them economically. But again, they keep their farms and their animals safe.
Merissa Lynn, Host: Perfect. Well, Sheriff, as always, thanks for being with us today. Corporal Chancey, thank you for joining us today. I want to remind our listeners to check out our cold case podcast as well. We have that in addition to "Keeping it 100 with Sheriff Chad Chronister." This is again, cold case podcast. Our completed first season is out. We take a look at eight different unsolved cases, homicides, and missing persons cases. So please check it out and call us at (813) 247-8200 if you have any information on any of those cases. Until then, thanks for listening in. We'll have another episode of "Keeping it 100 with Sheriff Chad Chronister" coming at you next month. Thanks for listening.
To listen into "Unfinished Business," HCSO's cold case podcast, visit: search for "Unfinished Business," or click the link here: https://teamhcso.com/Podcast