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Game Commission Delivers Statement on Powers and Duties of Deputy Wildlife Conservation Officers

September 24, 2008

To: STATE EDITORS

Contact: Jerry Feaser of the Pennsylvania Game Commission, +1- 717-705-6541, PGCNews@state.pa.us

HARRISBURG, Pa., Sept. 24 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — Pennsylvania Game Commission Executive Director Carl G. Roe today offered testimony before the Senate Game and Fisheries Committee about the powers and duties of Deputy Wildlife Conservation Officers.

Following is the prepared statement delivered by Director Roe.

“The Pennsylvania Game Commission was created in 1895 by the Legislature at the urging of the Pennsylvania State Sportsmen Association and other conservation groups who were appalled at the depletion of Pennsylvania’s wildlife due to commercial market hunting for profit, habitat loss, and the lack of any dedicated enforcement to effectively regulate sport hunting and protect wildlife,” Roe said.

“In fact, Pennsylvania’s first game law was enacted in 1721, and several other game laws were legislated over the next 174 years. However, without any dedicated and effective enforcement, these laws were largely ignored and Pennsylvania’s wildlife populations continued their downward spiral to the point that many species had become extinct and many others extirpated from the state by 1895.

“The newly-formed Board of Game Commissioners quickly realized that if there was to be any hope of protecting the Commonwealth’s wildlife, enforcement officers dedicated to that function were going to be needed. In 1897, legislation was passed that authorized the Commission to hire ‘Game Protectors.’ However, again the Commission quickly realized that although this step was a great advancement, the limited number of officers it could hire in a full time capacity, were not going to be enough to provide the protection that was required to allow the necessary protection of wildlife resources.

“In 1903, legislation was passed that provided the statutory authority for the Commission to institute Deputy Game Protectors to assist full time Game Protectors in protecting wildlife and providing other services to the citizens of the Commonwealth. Since then, thousands of men and women have volunteered their time to this cause, often risking their lives, and contributed immeasurably to Pennsylvania’s wildlife management success story. The history of wildlife management is replete with stories of the great dedicated service of the men and women who have served as Deputy Wildlife Conservation Officers for over 100 years.

“Deputies contribute in every aspect of the Pennsylvania Game Commission’s mission. From wildlife research to Hunter-Trapper Education to wildlife protection, they are an integral part of the wildlife team that insures that the Commonwealth’s property is conserved and protected.

“Pennsylvania has more than 19 million acres of forested habitat. Our full-time Wildlife Conservation Officers are distributed throughout 136 field districts, averaging more than 200,000 acres each. This large land area would be virtually impossible for a Wildlife Conservation Officer to provide effective wildlife protection and other important services without the assistance of Deputy Wildlife Conservation Officers. The last time we measured the total annual service provide by Deputies, it was determined that about 150,000 hours per year were provided by these volunteers. While that number may have decreased slightly due to a decrease in the total number of deputies, it is important to understand the critical and integral role they have in the Pennsylvania Game Commission’s ability to fulfill its legal mandates and accomplish its mission of managing all wild birds and mammals and their habitats for current and future generations.

“The concept of eliminating the enforcement authority of deputies would essentially result in a 70 percent reduction in our capacity to protect Pennsylvania’s wildlife.

“Recent isolated criticism of deputy wildlife conservation officers has raised questions regarding the powers and duties of deputy wildlife conservation officers and their training. We believe the enforcement statistics speak for themselves and are a tribute to the technical competence and professionalism of all of the Commission’s conservation officers, including the deputies. While statistics are not compiled for deputies and full time wildlife conservation officers independently, deputies outnumber full-time officers by about three-to-one in the total complement, and are therefore represented equitably.

“In the 2007-2008 fiscal year, Conservation Officers, ably assisted by Deputies, issued more than 6,000 citations for violations of the Game and Wildlife Code. They also issued more than 10,000 warnings for violations during the same period of time. This fact clearly shows that, contrary to limited accusations, officers are not heavy handed in the application of the law and in reality have shown a great deal of discretion in performing their duties.

“As a further testament to the officers training, technical competence, and discretion, 96 percent of the cases the officer issued citations for resulted in successful prosecutions. In fact, officers have maintained a successful prosecution rate of more than 95 percent for the last ten years, clearly indicating effective training and technical competence.

“For the past two years, officers have made more than 160,000 enforcement contacts per year, including over 80,000 administrative inspections, or ‘field checks’ of hunters in the field. Out of this significant level of activity on average, less than 15 formal complaints are filed each year on officers resulting in an enforcement contact to complaint ratio of less than 1/1000th of a percent. Also, because Deputy Wildlife Conservation Officers outnumber full-time officers by a ratio of three-to-one, we would expect a high number of the very few formal complaints we receive to be filed on deputies. However, that is not the case; deputies actually have a lower complaint ratio than full-time officers with only about two to three formal complaints per year being filed against deputies. Any enforcement contacts have the potential for high levels of conflict. People generally don’t enjoy being caught doing something illegal and cited or arrested. However, the enforcement contact to complaint ratio clearly shows that officers are performing their duties in a highly professional manner.

“Deputy Wildlife Conservation Officer training is a non- traditional training system in the sense that it is designed to accommodate volunteers who have full-time jobs, not unlike the concept used by the National Guard and Reserves to train their personnel.

“Applicants are required to perform a 20-hour ride along program with the respective WCO to ensure they understand what the requirements and expectations of the job are before they are even allowed to take the entrance exam. If the WCO is satisfied that the applicant understands the expectations of the job and meets the required standards, the applicant is recommended for testing.

“The applicant must pass an initial entrance exam, as well as physical and medical testing, at their own expense, and a thorough background investigation. Then the applicant continues on ride along status solely as an observer, and attends various in-service training programs at local district training sessions to continue gaining general knowledge and specific skills through incidental training opportunities. They also must attend a regional orientation, eight hours of basic firearms training and 16 hours of Game and Wildlife Code training before attending the in-residence part of the training program at the training academy in Harrisburg.

“The in-residence portion of the training program is a demanding 72 hours of instruction crammed into seven days, essentially providing two weeks of intensive instruction into one, with most volunteers using vacation days from work to attend. The in- residence portion of the training program focuses on critical subject matters, such as: the criminal justice process; laws of search and seizure; constitutional protections; rules of criminal procedure; use of force policy and application; and other core subject matter.”

“When the applicants complete the in-residence portion of the instruction they are provided an extension type course of instruction with reading assignments, study guides and work books to reinforce the in-residence training and expand upon it as well as provide training in the natural history of Pennsylvania wildlife and other subjects that are appropriate for independent study. This program is geared to take between 60 and 80 hours to complete depending on the individual, however most expend far more time reading, completing the workbooks and studying for 45 to 90 days before taking a 280-question certification exam that requires an 80 percent minimum score to pass.

“Two important items should be noted: first, by this point in the training process, the applicant has been formally involved in the process for about a year; and second, until this certification exam is passed, the applicants are not commissioned, have no authority and are not even issued uniforms. In fact, they are simply in a training status for the entire year.

“The training doesn’t stop once they are commissioned. In fact, the newly-commissioned officers are only half way through the process. Newly-commissioned officers may only work with a veteran officer for their entire probationary year, during which they complete a structured on-the-job training program. This training program reinforces and expands upon all previous training, and provides practical application under the guidance of a veteran officer. While the OJT program mandates a minimum of 80 hours of instruction, our records indicate that most probationary officers receive about 300 hours of training during this first year.

“Even at the conclusion of the OJT program and probationary year, DWCOs are required to attend approximately 40 hours of in-service training each year in legal updates and other mandatory officer skills training identified in annual training plans, as well as regional and local structured training meetings. Most deputies also take advantage of elective training offered by both the academy staff, regional opportunities and those sponsored by the Conservation Officer’s of Pennsylvania Association, often at their own expense, indicating their dedication to professional development.

“It also should be noted that our deputy training program has been reviewed by the Association of Natural Resource Enforcement Trainers and received accolades for being innovative, progressive and effective. Several states have used Pennsylvania’s program as a model to develop or improve their existing programs.

“I believe that recent criticism has unfairly characterized and criticized our deputies. In reality, these volunteers come from all walks of life and are sincerely dedicated to serving the citizen of the Commonwealth by contributing to the success of the agency’s wildlife management mission. These officers’ full-time occupations range from teachers, veterinarians, and an attorney, to municipal police officers, DCNR employees and Pennsylvania State Police employees. Enforcement operations will always generate some conflict and criticism from isolated elements. That is inherent in any type of enforcement. However, the statistics for our enforcement operations do not indicate any systemic problems. In fact, they indicate our officers are doing an extremely good job of professionally performing their duties.

“To conclude, we are always interested in striving to achieve excellence in all of our operations. We need to acknowledge the tremendous sacrifice that these dedicated volunteers make for wildlife, and ensure that any discussion we have does not alienate this remarkable group of people or leave them feeling unappreciated.”

“The Pennsylvania Game Commission now has fewer than 400 deputies remaining; the lowest number since World War II. They make tremendous sacrifices, taking vacation time to train and to work. Every hour they work for us is essentially overtime for them and they do it willingly for virtually no compensation. In fact, many of them are losing money each day on patrol since the expense of fuel for their personal vehicles has exceeded their minimal stipend to reimburse their expenses. Their level of dedication runs deep and is not merely a passing interest.

“Historically, we have had 42 officers with more than 40 years of service to the Commonwealth, 119 with more than 35 years of service, and 252 with more than 30 years of service and many of them are still serving. I submit that this type of longevity in a volunteer position indicates the caliber of people who serve as deputies.

“The deputy that takes the call in the middle of the night to respond to a wildlife emergency or enforcement situation even though they know they will not have time to get any more sleep before going to their primary job doesn’t do it for the money. They do it because they care about wildlife and the mission of the Pennsylvania Game Commission. It is about truly selfless service by a unique group of men and women. As we proceed with this discussion we need to be mindful of these sacrifices and ensure we do not marginalize these officers who are not only a credit to themselves but also a tremendous asset to all the citizens of the Commonwealth.”

Note to Editors: If you would like to receive Game Commission news releases via e-mail, please send a note with your name, address, telephone number and the name of the organization you represent to: PGCNews@state.pa.us.

For Information Contact:

Jerry Feaser

717-705-6541

PGCNews@state.pa.us

SOURCE Pennsylvania Game Commission

(c) 2008 U.S. Newswire. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All rights Reserved.




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