HARTLEY COUNTY, TX (KFDA) - A rise in theft in part of the panhandle can be attributed to an increase in meth usage, according to the Hartley County Sheriff's Office (HCSO).
In the last few months, thousands of dollars in trailers, ATVs, John Deer gators, and welding equipment have been stolen from several places in Hartley, Dallam and Sherman counties.
The Hartley County Sheriff's Office thinks it's part of one big ring in the northwest panhandle.
"I would say it's within the top six counties on the west side that we're looking into," said Chanze Fowler, Chief Deputy of the HCSO. "I don't think this problem is exclusive to this area, I just think this is where this operation is going."
The equipment and trailer pictured below were stolen in Hartley County and later uncovered in Beaver County.
That was the first of many robberies of similar equipment.
"We've always had theft and stuff up here, but not to this degree," said Fowler.
He believes the many robberies they're seeing like these are all connected, and meth is the common factor.
"I know meth is a big player," said Fowler. "Meth used to be about $100 a gram. We're hearing on the street that they're giving about $40 a gram now. So if it's that cheap, and there's a lot of people [who use it], once you get on it it's just almost impossible to get off."
The HCSO and other agencies are following several suspects, most in their 20's, who Fowler said are selling this stolen equipment for meth, or money to buy meth.
But the residents who get robbed are not doing all they can to prevent these thefts.
"Most of these trailers aren't locked," said Fowler. "Most of these farmers unfortunately leave the keys in their gators or their ATVs. These guys pull up with a pickup or a SUV hookup and they're gone."
Fowler suggested farmers put GPS trackers on their equipment.
Those can cost a few hundred dollars.
Another solution? Lock up your things.
"We don't want your stuff stolen, but you've got to help us," said Fowler. "You've got to lock all your doors. You've got to lock your cars. You've got to keep your keys out of your cars, and you've got to lock up your belongings."
Fowler asked that anyone with industrial equipment like this write down the serial numbers for their items.
This makes it easier for officers to locate your things if they're stolen.