FoodLink considers hiring private security firm to help thwart vandalism problem

By Paul Myers @PaulM_SGN

EXETER – For the third time in May, FoodLink was forced to struggle fulfilling their mission of feeding Tulare County because of vandalism.

Last Tuesday, May 28, vandals cut the fuel lines to their largest trucks.

“We’ve been parking our smaller vehicles inside the warehouse but we have the two larger trucks that won’t fit in there,” Nicole Celaya, executive director of FoodLink, said.

The burglars did not stop at the fuel lines, they broke into the truck and stole the radio, the CB Radio, the screen that displays the feed from the rear camera, not that the screen was very useful since they also took the backup camera.

“It has been really frustrating for us. We have a very strict schedule for what we do every day and when we get here it throws everything off. It is a long domino effect that affects hundreds and hundreds of people throughout the county,” Celaya said.

While this kind of incident has happened three times in the same 31 days, vandalism at FoodLink’s site has been ongoing since they moved in 2016. The break-ins got so bad they were forced to move their smaller trucks into the warehouse at night. And when their trucks were not being burglarized, thieves would steal most everything they can get their hands on. Celaya said they have stolen a lot of their garden supplies, pallets and roles of large bags.

FoodLink has done their best to mitigate the vandalism, but nothing seems to help. The furthest back portion of the property is well lit at night, and they have installed security cameras.

“I think they’ve been doing a phenomenal job doing what they can do,” Exeter Chief of Police, John Hall said.

The problem they have faced in catching the vandals is positively identifying them. Chief Hall said part of the problem could be the resolution of the camera equipment. But FoodLink’s cameras may not be the only eyes on them. In April, the police department purchased some covert surveillance equipment to help deter and thwart car thefts and vandalism in the area.

A pole mounted camera system looks like any regular surveillance device. Although, a covert camera can be disguised in something like an electrical box. Exeter’s staff report says that auto thieves will frequently target a specific area for their crime due to the ease of access to the vehicle. Instead of posting an officer to watch a suspicious area, committing staff time and taxpayer dollars for something that may not happen, Exeter notes it is much more cost effective to use surveillance. Exeter police will post their surveillance equipment where they have been able to identify “hot spots.”

“This is the perfect example of a site where we would deploy equipment like this,” Hall said.

Celaya added that their location on Firebaugh and 2nd Street make their place easier to target. Because they are nearest a large orange grove, thieves can easily take off and hide. Hall said they have been trying to nail down a typical time frame that they have been vandalized to help patrol that area more often. Hall added that it might be easier for a thief to run into the groves, but it is a lot harder for them to lie their way out, if they get caught.

“It isn’t as if they can say they were taking a walk or going to the store to get a soda,” Hall said.

He added that what makes the position of FoodLink so difficult, is that there are no neighbors. Hall says that they cannot ask around if anyone saw anything, like they would if it were a residential area.

As an alternative, Celaya said that FoodLink is considering hiring a private security firm.

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