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Victim turns inventor to halt wire thefts

Farmer says device alerts sheriff if line on silos cut

By Tina Parker

This article was published March 16, 2014 at 2:57 a.m.


Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/BENJAMIN KRAIN --3/13/2014-- Lonoke farmers Jerry Kelly, Scott Mitchell and Matt Schafer have partnered with friends to produce and sell a security device to protect their gain bins and water wells from copper thieves. The small device, center, is powered by a 6 year battery and notifies up to 10 contacts the moment the copper is being tampered with.

For Matt Schafer, every night was a $1,000 gamble. He was always afraid that when he awoke, his grain bins would once again be stripped of their copper wiring, setting him back thousands of dollars for repairs.

Schafer’s 4,000-acre Lonoke County farm was a prime target for thieves because it is outside the city limits and not easily patrolled by local law enforcement officers. He and his neighbor, Scott Mitchell, who had also been a victim of copper wire thieves, narrowed down the times they were most vulnerable and began alternating night watches at the crossroads of their property.

“Like lightning, they’re going to strike, you just don’t know when or where,” Schafer said of the thieves.

The vandals strip the copper by whatever means necessary, then sell it to scrap yards, law enforcement officials said. Usually at night, the thieves strike, stealing wire out of grain bins, irrigation wells, contractor trailers and businesses, leaving only a trace behind. Security cameras do little to deter thieves because their faces are usually covered.

But a new electronic-monitoring device developed by Schafer, Mitchell and others - called the BinSnitch - may put a stop to thieves. It can sense when copper wire is cut and alert law enforcement officers.

One night last summer, Schafer fell asleep while on night-watch. He awoke still holding his cellphone in one hand, which had the sheriff’s number on speed dial, and the butt of a .40-caliber pistol in the other. That was when he realized that his solution to the theft problem wasn’t working.

“I felt like an idiot - my kids were home in bed, my wife was asleep without me and I was just sitting here with a pistol in one hand,” Schafer said.

After that realization, but while still sitting in the darkness, Schafer began scouring the Internet for theft deterrents. He stumbled across an electronic copper-theft detection system used for center-pivot irrigation systems. The next morning, he contacted Net Irrigate LLC.

He was told that the technology could not be used on his grain-bin storage system, but he refused to take no for an answer and continued to call until the CEO agreed to visit his farm and see if the technology could be modified for use on grain silos.

“He sent a very emotional email and explained the severity of the problem in the area,” said Julie Stark, channel manager for Net Irrigate. “After much discussion, we planned a trip down from Indiana - that was in July 2013.”

Within two hours of their arrival, the BinSnitch was created.

The BinSnitch works similar to a cellphone. It can hold up to 10 phone numbers, which will be dialed if a line is cut. Schafer logged Lonoke County Sheriff John Staley as one of the numbers.

“The BinSnitch rings my phone, rings dispatch and a couple of my investigators within seconds of a cut line,” Staley said.

The cellular technology will call, text and email the programmed contact number.

“It helps us out and tells us when something is going wrong,” Staley said. “We could drive past the farm 100 times and never know any-thing was wrong, but when this alert goes off we know right where to go.”

It also works if a vandal cuts the wires to the device or tries to destroy it. If it loses its connection, is stolen or damaged, it sends an alert.

“This system is awesome, there’s no way around it,” Staley said. “Once it sends an alert, we’re on it. We know the roads and we know all the ways in and out.”

Schafer’s idea has turned into a distrubutor business called AgSecure LLC., which carries the products he helped create. His partners are Mitchell, Jerry Kelly and grain bin expert Mitch Golleher.

Other than the BinSnitch, he created the PumpSnitch and the Snitch. The Pump-Snitch is a monitoring system for wells and water pumps. It works almost identically to the BinSnitch but can be controlled remotely. It will send notification when the pumping starts and stops, and when copper wire is stripped. The Snitch, is a multiuse device that can be used on mobile job sites. For instance, if the door to a contractor’s trailer is opened, it triggers the alert.

Schafer has several more uses for the Snitch devices that are still in the research-and-development phase.

“I am really surprised by all of this. I didn’t call to be a dealer, I called to find a solution,” Schafer said, adding that he has sold more than 60 devices since opening the business in October 2013.

In addition, the Arkansas Farm Bureau will waive a deductible of up to $1,000 for any customer who installs the system, said Steve Eddington, vice president of public relations for the insurance company.

“It’s rewarding. We’re helping people and fighting against crime,” Schafer said. “We work hard, we don’t want people to steal from us, and we will take whatever means necessary to stop it.”

Business, Pages 71 on 03/16/2014

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