Jerry Flowers wrangles up rural crime

Colonel Jerry Flowers steps into the room, clad in cowboy boots, a tan Stetson, starched jeans and a button down shirt under a wool vest. He is the spitting image of Wyatt Earp right down to his mustache, holstered gun and western swagger.

Even more to the tune of Earp, Flowers is a lawman in pursuit of justice as the chief agent of Investigative Services for the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry. But do not let his name fool you, Flowers is not all hearts and rainbows. He usually gets his man and comes out smelling like a rose.

Flowers has been in law enforcement in Oklahoma since 1974 when he joined the Oklahoma City Police Department. In his 45 plus years in law enforcement, he spent 36 years as a detective in the gang unit working drive-by shootings, murders, prostitution and narcotics.

“Having been in law enforcement that long in this state, I have probably seen just about every crime you could possibly imagine,” Flowers said. “Yet, I was the only Oklahoma City police officer to show up at a crime scene wearing cowboy boots, a cowboy hat and a Western gun belt. That’s just how I was raised.” 

High noon in Oklahoma

In 2007, then Oklahoma Secretary of Agriculture Terry Peach recognized a need for the Department of Agriculture to establish a law enforcement unit responsible for investigating agriculture crimes in Oklahoma. Oklahoma was standing up for farmers and ranchers who were victims of cattle theft, equipment theft, wildfires by way of arson and timber theft among other crimes.

“There became a need for law enforcement officers that could focus in this arena with the expertise to address these issues,” Flowers explained. “The problem prior to 2007 was sheriff’s departments and police departments didn’t have the resources, time or man power to focus on this type of crime. Additionally, a lot of them didn’t have the expertise to investigate crimes like cattle theft or identify stolen equipment. This issue got worse in the rural parts of our state where law enforcement is scarce and funds don’t allow for more resources.”

In 2008, Flowers retired from the police department and within three weeks he came on board with ODAFF. In 2013, he was promoted to the position of chief investigator.

The unit’s success has received much media attention. TV shows and networks including “ABC Nightline,” The Travel Channel, National Geographic’s Explorer Channel and CNN’s “This is Life with Lisa Ling” have all done special segments on these Oklahoma lawman and their department.

“We have also become role models for other states around the U.S. to pattern on what we do,” Flowers explained. “Kansas and Arkansas are good examples as they are now working to establish units like ours.”

Although, it has been tremendously effective, this unit is still considered relatively new compared to its counterparts. Flowers says in the beginning it was made up of individuals from the forestry division who had worked wildfire arson investigations. They were commissioned with a firearm and given statutory authority to investigate agriculture crimes.

“When I came on board, I was able to bring my experience as a detective into this unit and start training these agents with a level of understanding on how to focus on agriculture crime. Over the years, we’ve evolved into where we are today. Some of the original investigators have retired and I’ve been able to hire replacement agents that are truly experienced criminal investigators.”

When it comes to his posse, Flowers believes it is important for his investigators to carry the traditions of the American cowboy. They also don western attire, but more importantly they come from agriculture backgrounds.

“My guys have cattle or horses and are very familiar with agriculture because they grew up in it. They know the walk of American farmers and ranchers. That in it itself, is a tremendous asset to us because we can walk onto a farm or a ranch and understand the working mechanisms of the operation.”

Unfortunately, because of actions taken by past government administrations and budget crisises the number of investigators has decreased, he said. These agents are also the lowest paid law enforcement agents in Oklahoma.

“It’s a problem we are trying to fix to get their pay equal to their counterparts such as the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation, Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics or the Oklahoma Highway Patrol. Our agents carry the same statutory authority as those guys and hopefully we get some changes made in the next legislative session.”

Riding the range, making outlaws pay

Flowers says his agents drove close to 350,000 miles in 2018 while investigating crime in Oklahoma.

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“It’s about 3,000 miles each month,” Flowers added. “If I could have 10 more agents tomorrow, I’d still keep us that busy because there is so much to do. I hope to someday expand the unit to more agents and obtain more resources.”

Currently the unit consists of eight agents spread across Oklahoma along with Flowers, who works in the ODAFF building next to the capitol in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Although he keeps an office, Flowers can usually be found with his investigators rounding up criminals who threaten the livelihood of farmers and ranchers. Flowers says his unit recovers about $5 million worth of cattle and equipment every year.

“I can’t tell you the number of hugs me and my men have received from people who are so thankful that someone takes an interest in bringing offenders of these type of crimes to justice and resolves their situation. To stand there and actually tear-up with them is one of the biggest highs that you could ever imagine.”

Apart from the fact catching criminals is his livelihood, Flowers says there is one particular thing driving his quest for justice: his passion for agriculture.

“Tonight when I sit down to dinner at the supper table, and I look at the plate of food I am fixin’ to enjoy, I realize everything on that plate was put there by a farmer or rancher somewhere in this country. That is a resource and a commodity that we have to defend and we here at the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture are sworn to protect. We will attack Hell with a water gun to stand between good and evil and protect those who can’t protect themselves.”

Lacey Newlin can be reached at [email protected]. Part two of this story will be posted next week.